The other day Emma chose to read and discuss William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” for one of our two sessions. A brief aside: When I was in graduate school, one of my favorite classes was on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. As I remember it, we spent a week discussing a single paragraph. To me, this was bliss. Are you familiar with Virginia Woolf? A goddess of women writers. A writer of imperfect perfection, truth, honesty, despair, joy and suffering, that tumultuous roiling, spilling of words on the page evoking sadness, confusion and ecstasy all at the same time, this was what I felt as I read Virginia Woolf for the first time.
But the other day, instead of pulling out my old copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I thought of poetry and grappled with which poet and which poem? Should we read Yeats, Wordsworth, Baudelaire or Keats? But then, for some reason I decided on William Blake’s The Tyger:
“Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forest of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
After we’d read the entire poem to its end I asked Emma what she thought. Emma wrote, “Beautiful illustration of torn ideas. Rabid wondering regarding innocence and the result of omnipotence.”
This was her response after reading it through one time. No discussion. Nothing from me about meaning or interpretation. Nothing. This was Emma’s take away, having been given nothing else.
I then asked her what role if any evil played in the poem. Emma wrote, “I am thinking evil is understood as being the tiger.”
“I agree,” I said, “What do you think about using the tiger to describe evil?”
Emma wrote, “The worst evil is the kind that is camouflaged as something else… like an innocent lamb.”
The second to last stanza is:
“When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
Emma then wrote, “… maybe god understands what it’s like to be misunderstood.”
Wow. She’s brilliant.
Holy mother of the universe. Jeepers. Chills.
I always knew Emma was brilliant, but seeing how easily she understand poetic metaphor clinches it for me. At 47, I *still* struggle with poetry and need to have it explained to me. I only understood Tyger after it was explained. A few years ago, someone had to explain Alfred Prufrock to me. I thought it was a happy poem until it was explained. I could live to be 200 and never uncover the brilliance Emma has as a pre-teen.
I am so glad she is out of that stifling classroom and home where she can do some real learning.
In fairness to the school, they’ve tried. They’ve tried harder than any school we’ve seen, in fact. It’s just the disparity with what needs to happen in education and what is happening is too large a gap to bridge at the moment. I’m hoping it will be bridged at some point in the near future…
Her thoughts are a joy to read. She’s astounding. Your journey is a page turner.
Thank you dear friend. You’ve been with us, right from the beginning… Love to all of you.
Emma is far too intelligent for the schools she was in; she’d have outshined the teachers. She is much better off at home. I loved poetry in school and would be one of the few silently cheering amid all the groans when teachers would announce that we’d be covering poetry over the next few weeks. Even with my love of poetry, I can’t say that I had a full grasp of it like Emma does. She is simply amazing! 🙂
Your description of silently cheering while your fellow classmates groaned was EXACTLY my experience with that class dedicated to Virginia Woolf. As my classmates complained, I felt nothing but excitement and joy!
I never thought I’d be as excited by a writer as I once was by Woolf, but now I am. Witnessing Emma’s words is beyond thrilling!!
Robert Frost used to be my favorite, but I must say that after reading Emma’s work, Frost has been replaced! I get that same feeling of excitement from all those years ago when I read Emma’s words! I can only imagine how you and Richard must feel as her parents! 🙂
“Beautiful illustration of torn ideas. Rabid wondering regarding innocence and the result of omnipotence.” This is very powerful autistic ideation. I sense another moment in which Emma will soon go beyond anything I can author at that loci.
Emma is then very kind when Ariane introduces a thought from where she stands. On one interpretation Blake does not speak to the idea of evil in this poem. The tiger is fearful, not evil. The fearful symmetry of the tiger is rather beyond the imagination of mortals; so Blake pitches his thought on this cleverly, wondering about what immortal hand or eye could frame (conceive, create) that fearful symmetry.
Emma pitches her kind thinking with two modulators, ‘I am thinking’, and ‘is [to be] understood’. She embraces the question at its loci of convention; and that an action of kindness.
The second to last stanza is really doggerel, even Kipling would offer something more refined.
Emma is then offering an exceedingly powerful thought here; and she does so by stepping away from engagement with the poet, speaking instead to her own agenda.
Blake valorises the Lamb as good incarnate (and as emerging from omnipotence). Emma speaks to how the lamb can be evil perversely disguised.
Emma then, with both kindness and intelligence, offers an answer which steps of from the God/god frame of reference, when she offers the heuristic that perhaps god understands what it is to be misunderstood.
Emma engages with the (rabid) poet and his poetry (and it from another era), and engages with Ariane, and does so in a manner preserving her (autistic) integrity while offering that engaging.
I, too, immediately noticed the phrasing of her answer about evil. “I am thinking evil is understood as being the tiger.” The interpretation often heard and yet, she does not say she agrees with that, but only that she thinks this is what others may take away from the poem. She then sidesteps the simplicity of good vs evil with the far more nuanced and complex observation, “The worst evil is the kind that is camouflaged as something else… like an innocent lamb.”
And then to end it all with a questioning thought of her own, in keeping with the questioning presence in the poem…. “… maybe god understands what it’s like to be misunderstood.”
Love your thoughts on this, Colin. Thank you so much for leaving them here.
The experts will say an autistic disagreeing with another one about poetry is impossible because the abstraction of poetry is beyond us as is the abstraction of G-d. but we all know how I feel about experts so with respect Colin while what you said in the end about preserving integrity is part of my own take away from this poem.
Blake is not the sort of poet you can read a poem in isolation from as Tyger is a poem in a poem cycle and the “dogrel” at the end is meant to make a person question what you couldn’t openly state then but which Emma by having theological thoughts gets to.
The tiger is not describes as evil and fearful symmetry is not meant to underscore the tiger as something to be feared but as so perfect as to inspire awe and fear. When you see a tiger it strikes you how nothing is wasted. As animals go a tiger is one of the more perfect creations . A tiger is feared and a lamb is not but on the whole the lamb is not set out here as not to be feared but in opposition to the tiger and the question of how the same creator could create two such different creatures is profound.
But if you want to extend that to life the animals being metaphors and thus it’s a bit unfair to Blake to reduce it to dogrel it speaks to what you say about integrity. Echoes what Emma said about the evil being greater when it seems like a lamb.
When we first studied it and I struggled with several things including finding G-d far easier to comprehend than all the lamblike beings around me that I did fear and didn’t understand. It spoke to be because it offered in cloaked form a hint that is missed if we suggest good and evil enter into it.
If very different beings can have the same creator that is huge because while the same people who have G-d doesn’t make junk fridge magnets often use them to hold up that horrible poem about Heaven’s Special Child where those of us right now being demonized by an organization that cloaks itself as a lamb. are tests and in heaven we will be perfect.
I doubt Bake would say balogna because I am not sure it existed and it doesn’t rhyme with much. But like the tiger is a perfect creation in the eyes of it’s creator and the diversity of creation is hinted at then we too who are viewed as less than perfect should be able to say to Voldemort Speaks I am as I am intended and I only betray that creation and by extension my Creator if I attempt to be other. A tiger who hunts and kills is being a tiger.
The poem rather than being viewed a the dogrel of a rabid poet is something that can resonate. The time and style had constraints but one didn’t muse safely and easily about the nature of creation. There were as there always are acceptable formats.
IN modern times an autistic who says if there is a heaven (not a given in my tradition) as I am already as I was intended can be placed on moderation while 20 people who insist no only in some distant time when everyone is dead and their kid is NT (and dead? I don’t get it) will it all be okay.
To me while society leads them to this view they have in a sense betrayed what the role of parent is intended to be especially if they never alter from that state.
As we grow we all reach an age it seems where we can convince ourselves “normal” is reachable. I was shamed to be autistic for too long but this poem was one step in contemplating the diversity of creation and not that one is evil and the other not but that they are when true to their nature perfect.
When I articulated for the first time exactly that. I am as I am intended to be and the loving G-d who while not quite grasping why I am this way, I do trust would not alter me and do trust that the key is integrity.
An actual tiger feels no shame when he rips a lamb to pieces not because they can’t as less complex animals can but because it is not an act a tiger can be ashamed of. It is their nature.
It’s empowering if we see it not as an actual polarization and thus yes your complaint of dogrel would be valid but as speculation about the diversity of creation and it’s complexity.
Since the poem cycle progresses meant to mirror the life cycle although one of the stranger things I find about autism is however much experience I get I cannot quite shed the innocence but I can set that aside when I look at the body of work and how this speculation is empowering.
We are not NT. We are demonized by those who pretend to do good in doing so. We can feel shame and attempt to be like them and of course fail as it is not within our capacity however close we might thing we can get but worse than that if we do believe we are meant to be this way in rejecting who we are. Aiming for a different nature much like if a tiger became a vegan we would betray ourselves and our Creator by rejecting our form.
If we see it as a statement of the full diversity of creation whether or not we believe in a creator it is powerful and empowering. G-d is misunderstood. Blake is misunderstood if taken in isolation and on the surface. We are misunderstood for starters by those who would say this is an impossible discussion to have.
We can’t pounce and consume Voldemort Speaks because we are not tigers but we can say, “No you may absolutely not make me less then. I am as I am meant to and I will work within the person I was created with. I will stop trying to be something else and stop being ashamed of who I am. You cannot make me ashamed. You for sure cannot impose your silly notions of what comes next and how only then will your kids and all autistics be in a format you can accept.”
Those notions are dogrel. Any entry of good or evil would be in betraying yourself. Being something other. Believing something other is the thing to be.
I feel ashamed of how much of my life I kept reaching for the impossible. How stupidly I thought somehow if I applied enough effort I would be like others how easily the point of the diversity of creation and the beauty and perfection of that diversity is undermined.
We had few role models than. Had to grasp at the few clues that things like poems gave us. In the poem cycle some of the poems are less powerful and you think next but this one suggests such vast possibilities that if you hold on to the notion and the question it can be empowering.
Was for me anyway. I would forget it and return to it and forget it again in the years I strove to be other.
I suppose inspiration is where you find it as is empowerment but you cannot fairly compare KIpling to Blake as they don’t belong to the same era. Different restrictions applied. Some had been lifted. I have read everything Kipling wrote and don’t care for any of it. Some do. There is nothing empowering or thought provoking there.
Emma managed to have thoughts that most avoid with no set up. Presumably not having worked through the entire cycle into that and grasped where the actual evil and thing to be feared is. How then can we say it is dogrel or insipid when it turns ones thoughts to our nature and what it means to be us and to be true to ourselves?
So that’s my defense of Blake. Too meaningful a poet by far to me to have one of the most thought provoking stanzas in the whole cycle by dismissed.
All of your reply is magnificently thought-provoking gareeth. If I could simply focus on one of your observations initially.
You say: “Blake is not the sort of poet you can read a poem in isolation from as Tyger is a poem in a poem cycle and the “doggerel” at the end is meant to make a person question what you couldn’t openly state then but which Emma by having theological thoughts gets to.”
What jumps out at me from an autistic point of view, is; “what you couldn’t openly state”. Nothing impacts on me more in day-to-day life, than what I sense and judge I cannot openly state. So that my senses and cognition provide me with a torrent of conception and ideation I cannot openly state, is a life-burden.
The life-question is then what you do, to make the other question (come to something by themselves) across what you ‘say’. The trick is to remain as true to the autistic vortex as proves possible, without bearing an overwhelming cost across socialised reception of what you present.
I’m then with Emma in what she does; albeit she goes much further and with more poise than can I. It’s the sense of the geometry of autistic being that Emma invokes, that is inspiring.
Blake doesn’t exist, apart from socialised conception of ‘him’, and/or apart from how reading his words moves us. It seems to me that Emma’s expression of how she was moved on reading, is autistically exquisite. She speaks to the generality of human striving, across fundamentals: fundamentals of innocence and omnipotence; striving that involves torn ideas (what a concept and expression) and rabid momentum and threat to balance. Blake is sketched only as a human-being striving across the general framework of being: a framework for being that by implication Emma knows as her own; she comparing and contrasting the being of herself and Blake.
Emma then comes at Blake’s poetry from an embedding in her own era. Emma then, perhaps orientating to the stanza I characterised as ‘doggerel’, says: “… maybe god understands what it’s like to be misunderstood.” I term this stanza doggerel, because from my point of view it lacks current autistic tension and power. Maybe this verse was as much as you could openly say when Blake said it, but the horizon as to what you can openly say has moved.
In a current era, getting a grip on what God/god/G_d is in human process and occurring, differs in its detail from what was involved in Blake’s time. The issue has an autistic aspect, as I see it. It seems to me that being autistic involves spinning-up in one person, in a manner paralleling what the collective has done across God/god/G_d centred meaning-making. That sees the autistic individual, in my view, involved in a radical activity of self-creation across the meaning-making of their sensory-cognitive processing. That is the autistic individual, to a significant degree, invents themselves across their autonomous meaning-making. This is a risky and dangerous project, one difficult to manage.
I speculate that Emma, as one of her generation in this era, can come at everything involved in the God/god/G_d nexus of things, with a sense of the self-invention it all involves. Blake had that sense too, but he was dealing with a different era of what you could not openly state. Emma has another existential version of that exigency to work through; one attaching to her own era.
While Blake could own Emma across artisan mastery, Emma’s ““Beautiful illustration of torn ideas. Rabid wondering regarding innocence and the result of omnipotence”, stands comparison with any 14 of Blake’s words. I’m sure he himself would recognise that, and would stand aside so as not to obstruct other’s appreciation of Emma’s speaking.
Dogrell by definition I would state cannot inspire across the ages. Maybe we have different notions of Blake or dogrel but some of what Emma concluded from the poem resonated with my own conclusions but also originally with the empowering notion of the diversity of creation.
Blake is not my favourite of the Romantics. Well sometimes he is it does depend on the year but the point of any poem that stands the test of time is what does it inspire?
A poem is not a short story and even a poem that people do tend to study so have notions eventually of what people took from it (although for three years we had as English teacher and actual poet and she forbade using text books so that we could come at the poem purely)
If you tell a story or write a novel while it is usual to leave some bait to hook the reader and some like to leave some questions hanging most of your view is transmitted. Most good poetry what is meant to say is slightly obscured as every reader, even one who reads it in their own time brings their own thoughts to the issue. THeir own experience their own mind.
That’s what makes poetry great.
It’s impossible to know what Blake would think although it’s probably safe to assume he would be glad it prompted thought and discussion.
Poetry can be measured across, its evoking of truth (had as it resonates for its hearers), and its absence of residual dross. We begin with our striving poet, and we end with words that evoke truth or serve that which can take comfort from the residual dross (so Kipling evokes some truth, but has most to do with bringing comfort to what is the British Empire). These words function in being remembered and repeated. For the greatest of poets, reward is being forgotten as person with biography, while words crafted retain inspiring and sustaining currency; for surely, what moved them to poetry was truth beyond self, truth words could almost not express. In many ways the books of the great religions embody many such examples of poetic consummation. These truths are truth we can access through resonance, where we would struggle to intellectually paraphrase such truth.
Emma, it does seem, is attuned to such resonance and resonating. More than that, she seems strong enough to survive and thrive in so being.
Each of us drawn into orbit of Emma-support (in diverse ways) finds resonance in and with what Emma presents as being and doing (so a diversity in what resonates). Because of Emma’s high autistic qualities, each of us is drawn to be the best that we can be in offering any useful response. In some manner that responding contributes to what Emma has available as a fresh moment in her environing; where Emma might find some part of that resonates with her.
The crucial matter being how this is all proceeding across resonance; resonance with passing claims to useful truth.
You are then a more sensitive resonance-instrument than am I. I’m a joiner, I make things out of wood. I treat things as tools and materials; and in doing so I violate what else they could be. I tend to treat things of culture and history in similar manner. I use and misuse them for what I see myself as having to do; I often do them less than justice.
Emma is more sensitive than I am, and more compassionate/kinder in doing what she has to do; so her capture of Blake’s striving as poet, just resonates me to a grasp of truth I could not gain to independently. She speaks to the fundamentals across which Blake was striving. The truth she mediates across resonance with what she has to say, does good justice to Blake, but also moves him out of the way so that the fundamentals can be seen. For me, what Emma there does is autistic action of a high, high order.
Ilja Aalto (May 21, 2014 at 10:05 pm) [“I love William Blake and I think Emma’s interpretation is really interesting. My take on the poem is really about how telling good from bad can be really hard. In reality they are always intertwined. Both are necessary. The tiger is terrible but also perfectly beautiful. We often only see one side because we cannot see things from a larger perspective. Maybe Emma means something similar when she wrote about God understanding what it’s like to be misunderstood. This is a major theme in a lot of Blake’s poetry.”] then speaks to the subtlety of how this group-resonating works. When she says: “Maybe Emma means something similar when she wrote about God understanding what it’s like to be misunderstood.”
Ilja Aalto puts words to a possibility that might need a concerted group effort to amplify and grasp and record the dimension of competence Emma might here be demonstrating. Across complex resonance, Ilja Aalto becomes the candidate agent for enriching this particular dimension of presumption, this particular dimension of a competence we might presume Emma to have.
Ilja Aalto sensed this possibility: Ilja Aalto begun speaking to that possibility Ilja Aalto senses; Ilja Aalto is (potentially) the generic Blake incarnate in a current moment of striving. That is the cycle and nexus of resonance and striving of which Blake is part.
Thanks for letting William Blake enter your world Emma. He was a genius like you. Have you seen his artwork. I love the way he combined poetry and visual art. Hey speaking of poetry and autism I have to share Noah’s latest recital of Yeats’ Stolen Child.
Thanks Brian… Pacific ocean?
Can you, Emma, memorize poetry too the way you do songs? I memorized Tyger, Tyger when I was young and have always loved it. You’ve made such insightful comments about the poem. Keep on going with writing out your thoughts!
You’ve made my day! Thanks, Emma.
We haven’t tried… Today? Emily Dickinson…
One of my favorite poems. I love her interpretation of it and her intuitive perception of the author’s state of mind.
I am stunned by the beauty and strength of her mind and spirit. The amazing part-to me-is how all this has flowered so richly despite all those years of being underestimated and misunderstood, however lovingly, by everyone. I am in awe……
Thank you Jo-Anne. Her insights are profound.
This is great! Discussing interpretation of poems with Emma!
I love “The Tyger” and I like when it is read as a drumming circle, to evoke the menace and fear.
Has she read “The Lamb”?
Emma is past the innocence Blake evokes with The Lamb. She knows how hard it is to be understood. She lives the experience Blake evokes with The Tyger
Thank you Emma for your beautiful thoughts!
Emma, as a former high school English teacher, I would have been proud to have you in my class. I wish so much I had a school where you, my girl, and so many others could have an education that respects you and an environment centered on individual learning/communication methods.
To think of the books you were given in school, it breaks my heart — how bored and angry you must have felt.
Thank you, Emma, for sharing your thoughts and inspiring us.
Awesome and very inspirational.
Chilling…because it is so timely. Thank you. I don’t know…maybe you’ve covered this…does Emma mind being quoted?
As long as you credit the blog, so others might read more of her words, it’s not a problem.
I shouldn’t be so vague. Scientist’s—I use the word loosely–have managed to tie in autism and serial killers. Without regard to the actual truth that it would be 4×10-5 (four times 10 to the negative 5th) percent, or .00004% of the population of autistics who were. My son is relatively “normal”, but he will suffer for this, but not if I can help it. I pray God truly does understand what it is like to be misunderstood.
I need to get the world off my shoulders. This has been an especially bad week. Thank you.
I love William Blake and I think Emma’s interpretation is really interesting. My take on the poem is really about how telling good from bad can be really hard. In reality they are always intertwined. Both are necessary.The tiger is terrible but also perfectly beautiful. We often only see one side because we cannot see things from a larger perspective. Maybe Emma means something similar when she wrote about God understanding what it’s like to be misunderstood. This is a major theme in a lot of Blake’s poetry.
“oh, to live another planet,
where the sun is burned to blackness,
not to see the light of darkness,
not to see another face…”
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