"The Tyger" by William Blake

Study Questions on William Blake and William Wordsworth

British Literature

Dr. Tina L. Hanlon
Ferrum College

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Some of these questions may deal with poems you are not required to read. Use any of these questions as you wish to help you think and write about the works of Blake and Wordsworth.

  1. What is the significance of close observation of individual (often small) details from nature in Wordsworth's poems? How do they compare with Blake's use of images from nature? Compare the views of nature, the past, and the imagination in the individual poems of both poets.

  2. Does Blake use traditional symbolic meanings of images such as the tiger, clod (earth) and pebble, rose, worm, etc.? What new symbolic uses do these things have in the context of these poems?

  3. What relationship do you see between the two speakers in “The Clod and the Pebble”? Are they the voices of innocence and experience, or is that too simplistic? Consider the descriptions of their different voices, the locations, and their different philosophies of love. Can the clod and the pebble understand each other? Does Blake seem to be affirming either of their philosophies?

  4. What effect is created by describing the chimney-sweeper as “a little black thing”? What injury have the sweep’s parents done to him? Why does he continue to dance and sing? How can heaven be made out of misery?

  5. What connotations or associations do you connect with rose, worm, storm, and other images in “The Sick Rose”? Do you agree with those who interpret the poem as a sexual allegory (i.e., with a set of sexual symbols), or an allegory of materialism? Can you see other ways to interpret the poem?

  6. “The Tyger” is a series of questions, a poem with very strong rhythms. What do the language and rhythms of the poem suggest about the significance of the tiger and the nature of its creator? Why is it too simplistic to interpret “The Tyger” as a symbolic view of evil or hell and “The Lamb” as symbolic of innocence and purity?

  7. What are the sources of sorrow for the speaker in “The Chimney-Sweeper” and "London"? Look for images of restriction or confinement in both poems. What do you think the image “mind-forg’d manacles” represents?

  8. In what ways are the religious elements in Blake's poems related to traditional Christian symbols and concepts, and in what ways are they very original or unorthodox?

  9. For what purposes does Blake bring together opposing images or ideas in various poems? What does he see as the most valuable sources of truth and virtue?

  10. How does “Mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau” reflect Blake’s dissatisfaction with the Enlightenment or Age of Reason and its scientific “advances”? What do the desert sands and “Israel’s tents” represent in that poem? Compare and contrast the allusions to modern Europe and ancient Israel in “And Did those Feet”? Is there a similar contrast between images from nature such as the grains of sand in “Mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau”?

  11. Why do you think the song based on "And Did those Feet" was written to encourage Britain to "Fight for Right" in the later part of World War I? Why do you think it was adopted by the Women's Institute as a kind of anthem in the 1920s, when they were fighting for women's right to vote? Why do you think it is still such a popular patriotic anthem in England? Is there some irony in the twentieth-century history of this song, since Blake was accused of sedition at one point (and acquitted)? Listen to the song "Jerusalem" at this link.

  12. How do the main interests and attitudes of these poets compare and contrast with the concerns of eighteenth-century satirists? (See, especially, Blake's "London" and "Auguries of Innocence.")

  13. “Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower” and “A Slumber Did My Spirit Steal” are part of a group of Wordsworth’s early works known as the “Lucy” poems. Whether Lucy was real or imagined has been the subject of much speculation. What is the contrast between the promises of Nature and the attitude of the speaker in the two poems? Compare the two kinds of calm in “Three Years”: that promised for Lucy and that left to the speaker. How can “A Slumber did My Spirit Steal” be read as a commentary on “Three Years”?

  14. Note the insistent tone of the first five stanzas of “To My Sister,” which are a call to seize the day, to yield oneself to nature. What does Wordsworth mean by “idleness” and what values does he associate with it? What are “joyless forms”? Why does the human heart make “silent laws”?

  15. In the sonnet “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” which descriptive elements are presented objectively and which subjectively? Is it contradictory to describe this sight as “so touching in its majesty”? How is the simile “like a garment” developed? What is the effect of personification in the poem and what does it suggest about the speaker’s attitude toward an awakened London?

  16. What do you think Wordsworth is complaining about in the sonnet "The world is too much with us"? What types of grief or loss are described in this and other poems? Why would he rather live in an ancient, "pagan" time? Do any of the other authors we study share this impulse?

  17. How does the poet's state of mind in "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" compare with the attitudes in the other poems? What mood does the opening simile suggest, and what change in mood occurs in “I Wandered”?

  18. The last stanza of "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" recalls the theory of the generation of poetry set forth in Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798): “I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind” (underlining by professor—these are extremely important statements from the early days of English Romantic poetry). The “powerful feeling” in this poem is in part produced by the suddenness with which the speaker comes upon the daffodils. Discuss the way he sees the daffodils and their effects on him.

  19. What is the view of birth, childhood, the child’s relationship with nature, and the growth into adulthood in Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”? How does the speaker feel about the past and how does he find consolation for his grief?

  20. What are the criteria for good poetry explained by Wordsworth in his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads?” How do his ideas apply to the poems of any of the Romantic poets we study?

January 14, 2014

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