The Theme of Nature in William Blake’s “The Tyger” and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Flower in the Crannied Wall”
William Blake’s “The Tyger” and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Flower in the Crannied Wall” are two literary masterpieces that emphasize the role of nature in the life of man. Both Blake’s Tiger and Tennyson’s Flower represent nature and speak of it in many similar and different ways.
A Few Similarities
Both poems share a number of similarities when it comes to the purpose and characteristics of nature.
Nature Imparts Knowledge. In both poems, nature is one way for humans to know the truth.
In “The Tyger,” the series of questions the observer asks implies that through the tiger that he is observing, he assumes that he will be able to know the truth about nature itself. The tiger is a mere representation of the terrible side of nature, or that part of nature which has “fearful symmetry” and with “fire [in] thine eyes” (Blake), or in short the part of nature that can scare us, like earthquakes and storms.
It is this that the observer seems to want to know more about and he hopes to find the answers in the tiger.
In Tennyson’s “Flower in the Crannied Wall,” the role of nature as one that imparts knowledge is clearly implied when the observer says, “if I could understand / What you are…I should know what God and man is” (Tennyson). This very line not only implies that nature can teach us something but also that even just a tiny piece of it, like a flower, can bring us fresh insight about the world.
In both poems, the writers seem to say that one does not have to look at the whole of nature in order to know its message but that one can only look at the bits and pieces, like the tiger and the flower, and he will be able to comprehend the world. In short, he is trying to say that nature can be understood through its parts, implying further that each part of nature seems to reflect the whole of it.
Nature is Mysterious. The fact that nature is a mystery abounds in both literary works.
The fact that the observer keeps asking questions about the tiger endlessly implies that he does not seem to understand it and nature itself. He asks, “In what distant deeps or skies / Burnt the fire of thine eyes?” (Blake) and “Did He smile His work to see? / Did He who made the lamb make thee?” (Blake). These two questions is a sign that the observer wonders if a benevolent God, a God who created the lamb or “goodness,” would be able to create such a horrific creature as a tiger and with it, all other destructive and terrible aspects of nature. This is the mystery of nature that the observer wants to unravel with his questions.
On the other hand, the very act of the observer in Tennyson’s poem plucking the flower from the crannied wall signifies an act of curiosity in the mystery of nature itself. He knows that the flower, tiny as it is, can give him all the answers to his questions about God and man. However, when he says, “if I could understand / What you are, root and all, and all in all” (Tennyson), he is implying that he does not understand the mystery behind the flower and nature itself. The observer is like holding a cell phone – he knows what it is for but he does not know how to use it.
Nature is Special. Both Blake and Tennyson emphasize the special quality and role that nature has through the example of the tiger and the flower.
The tiger in Blake’s poem attracts special attention and curiosity effortlessly because of “they fearful symmetry,” “the fire of thine eyes” and the very fact that it is “burning bright” (Blake). It is clear that the poet mentions other creations like “the forests of the night” (Blake) but why is it that it is the tiger that he notices? It is because of the observer’s belief that nature is indeed special. Furthermore, the fact that the observer says, “What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” (Blake) implies his reverence for the tiger and that part of nature that it represents. It is not exactly fear that overwhelms Blake’s observer but rather a sense of awe, for he thinks that not even God could have been brave enough to create the tiger.
In a similar way, how would the observer in Tennyson’s poem be able to notice the little “flower in the crannied wall” (Tennyson) if it were not noticeable and if it did not impart a special significance to him? Furthermore, as a flower usually grows on flat soil or pots, the observer may have even felt a kind of mercy towards it that is why “[he plucks it] out of the crannies” (Tennyson) where it does not belong and somehow protects it and holds it like a baby as he says, “I hold you here, root and all, in my hand” (Tennyson). He also mentions “root and all,” which means that he plucked the little flower very carefully so as to preserve its most important part and which could mean that he can replant it anytime. Finally, he praises it in the highest praise anyone could give nature when he humbly and reverently says, “If I could understand what you are…/ I should know what God and man is” (Tennyson). In this line, he regards the flower as a fellow human by talking to him, and he humbles himself by saying that although it imparts the noblest of knowledge, he admits that he does not know it. Such is the royal treatment Tennyson’s observer gives the flower.
Both poems also share a few differences especially on the implied nature of God, and this difference is perhaps the only one worth mentioning.
The Nature of God, or the Creator. In Tennyson’s poem, the observer mentions, “If I could understand / What you are… / I should know what God…is” (Tennyson). This does not at all imply any other assumption about God except that He exists in the observer’s point of view.
However, in Blake’s poem, the observer implies the possibility of the existence of two Creators, of which one might be evil. The observer mentions in the second stanza, “In what distant deeps of skies / Burnt the fire of thine eyes?” (Blake) and in the fifth stanza he asks, “Did He who made the lamb make thee?” (Blake). In these two lines the observer implies that the tiger could have been actually made by another Creator and presumably a more evil one, for the Creator he knows only made the “lamb,” or goodness. The observer here therefore believes that negative forces, or evil, also possess the power to create.
From Blake’s “The Tyger” and Tennyson’s “Flower in the Crannied Wall,” one can learn of the fact that nature imparts knowledge, mystery and deep significance in our lives. Furthermore, nature is a way not only for us to “know what God and man is” (Tennyson) but also to wonder if God really made that all the parts of nature which possess “fearful symmetry.” (Blake)
Blake, William. “The Tyger (from Songs of Experience).” Keith’s Poetry Archive. n.d. Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 2 May 2010. <http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~keith/poems/tyger.html>
Tennyson, Alfred Lord. “Flower in the Crannied Wall.” Tennyson Poems. n.d. Poet Seers. 2 May 2010. <http://www.poetseers.org/the_great_poets/british_poets/alfred_tennyson/library/flower_in_the_crannied_wall/>
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