The Scientific Indian

Fearful symmetry

The Tiger is the poem where the immortal line ‘fearful symmetry’ appears. It is a wonderful and famous poem by William Blake ( 1757-1827) from Songs of Innocence and of Experience that talks about Evolution without talking about Evolution. Blake expresses subtle thoughts on Creation and God through these poems. I am not well read to comment upon those thoughts. What makes me re-read this poem every so often is: the way he poetically captures the awe and wonder we feel about Life.

The Tiger

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

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

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?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


  1. #1 sub
    March 18, 2008

    Beautiful..thank you for brining it forth

  2. #2 Bill the Cat
    March 18, 2008

    I always wondered if he ever checked a dictionary for the pronunciation of ‘symmetry’.

    Or was this a blunder like Browning’s Pippa Passes?

  3. #3 Anonymoustache
    March 18, 2008

    It is a beautiful poem, one of my favorites. By amazing coincidence, I googled it this morning when posting something about Tiger Woods and his dominance. The poem applies—but I decided not to use it. The version I saw was the Olde English version I guess, spelt “Tyger Tyger”.
    And yes, the same thing has occurred to me too that while Blake was probably talking of a creator, the poem could just as well be talking of evolution.

  4. #4 bernarda
    March 19, 2008

    Mathematician Ian Stewart has a fascinating book using the title “Fearful Symmetry”.

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