In “The Tyger,” William Blake uses meter and rhyme to enhance both the meaning and the rhythm of his piece. The chanting nature is reinforced by frequent end-stop and catalectic endings for the lines. By melding these devices, Blake has managed to create a powerful poem – hidden in the casual style of a nursery rhyme.
The meter of “The Tyger” is mostly trochaic tetrameter (four feet per line; stressed-unstressed). Or trochaic three-and-a-half meter, really – Blake uses a catalectic ending (the dropping of the last unstressed syllable) on every trochaic line. This, along with the insertion of several iambic tetrameter lines, allows every end syllable to be stressed – thus forming a forceful beat to the poem, reminiscent of the tiger’s power. The set beat goes along with the words of the first stanza to create an image of a tiger prowling steadily through the dark forest. Blake uses this chanting, plodding rhythm as an almost musical backdrop for the reading of his poem – where he varies, it simply adds to the harmony.
The first instance of iambic tetrameter occurs in the first stanza’s last line. Personally, I think Blake switched meters for that line in order to draw attention to that particular line, and place more emphasis on the first (and pervading) question of the poem. That line is the first to be non-catalectic, and, as a result, seems more complete – which is supported by the meaning of the line. The speaker is wondering what higher power could possibly have created the tiger; in speaking of a higher power, it seems only natural that that line should somehow bigger than the others, and have more weight or emphasis. Blake uses the same idea in the fifth stanza, where both ...
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...to folded steel, he personifies the stars, who “water’d heaven with their tears” – presumably at the beauty and power of the tiger. This lends majesty to both that which brought them to tears – God – and that which received the tears – the tiger. The stars give the reader almost an ‘outside’ perspective on the tiger; Blake uses them in order to show what others feel for its majesty, which reflects into what conclusions the reader will draw about the subject.
Through his meter and techniques, Blake well manages to enforce a chanting rhythm and powerful voice. Demanding questions and vivid images belie the simple nature of his end rhyme – which turns out to be not simple at all, but to explore a deep, driving question. (All while alluding to his previous work.) “The Tyger,” upon close inspection, is shown to both sophisticated and complicated in its methods.
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