The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


 Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?
           ------- William Blake (1757 – 1827)

I was a high school student in Shanghai some 70 years ago when this work was selected for our English class.  I could still remember the first four lines of this great poem, but had forgotten the two lines which I’m quoting as the subject of today’s discussion.  In these days of instant internet access, old master’s pieces can be recalled with ease, which is a blessing.

The question raised by Blake represents a serious and basic challenge to religious thinking.   If a Creator had created all life forms on Earth, it is unavoidable that he made both the tiger and the lamb.  Much more, he also made the disease-causing viruses which modern human societies are struggling to destroy, or control, at prohibitive costs. 

When I was writing my book, I did not have Blake’s “Tyger” at my disposal.  But I did raise the same question with an accounting of the locusts plague in China.  In historic records extending over 27 centuries, the occurrences of the plague more or less follow the growth of population.  I explained in my book the plus side of these events: the crops are re-distributed as food for nature’s numerous life forms, thinning the human lifeline and fattening the lifelines of many other species through the mechanism of migratory locusts.  The introduction of pesticides has diminished the effectiveness of this type of population control.  Our over-populated world is still encouraged by government and religion leadership to seek growth in numbers.  Are we making sense?

In the 200 years since Blake wrote his work, the world has seen vast changes.  New knowledge forces new interpretation of God and creation.  My God can be quite different from Blake’s God in that justice triumph over love, not the other way around.

Blake’s observation of the symmetry in animal design is interesting and worthy of praise.  All animal possess the ability to move in a direction, which is best accomplished by a left-right symmetry about the plane of motion.  This will be talked about in another day.

October 20, 2008

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