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.”