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Burning Questions: A Guide to William Blake’s “The Tyger”

Notes on Context


“The Tyger” is one of Blake’s most loved and most quoted poems. It appeared in Songs of Experience, first published in 1794 as part of the dual collection Songs of Innocence and Experience. Songs of Innocence was published first, alone, in 1789; when the combined Songs of Innocence and Experience appeared, its subtitle, “shewing the two contrary states of the human soul,” explicitly indicated the author’s intention to pair the two groups of poems.

William Blake was both artist and poet, creator and illustrator of ideas, philosopher and printmaker. He published his poems as integrated works of poetic and visual art, etching words and drawings on copper plates which he and his wife Catherine printed in their own shop, and coloring the individual prints by hand. That is why the many images of “The Tyger” gathered online in The Blake Archive vary in coloring and appearance -- they are photographs of the original plates in the various copies of the book now held by the British Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Huntington Library and other collectors.

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