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Blake’s Mistake


With all respect to William Blake

I think he made a big mistake

With Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

He didn’t get the rhyming right

Although I strive and really try

I can’t rhyme symmetry with eye!

This week’s Big Tent Poetry prompt is to do a revision. That probably meant a revision of your own work, but I thought I might try something more ambitious. How about “fixing” a 217-year old classic?

I have always loved Blake’s The Tyger (see below), but have struggled with the rhyming in this couplet:

What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

And this one:

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry

These do not rhyme…no way, no how.  I have read several explanations for this poetic malpractice.  They fall into three categories:

  1. It rhymed just swell in the English vernacular circa 1794
  2. It is a slant, half, or eye rhyme considered acceptable among poets in that milieu
  3. It was done intentionally to add emphasis to those two lines

None of these explanations satisfied me.  So, powered by Google and armed with a six-pack, I decided to investigate this mystery.  The following theory is the product of my research:

Blake, responding to an online prompt and feeling pressure to add content to his blog, was at an impasse. He had a pretty good, but imperfect, piece…there were those nagging couplets.  Try as he might, he couldn’t work it out.  He knew that his fellow bloggers were polite, supportive and unlikely to criticize. Since the clock was ticking (and in 1794 he probably only had dial up) he decided to publish as is. There you have it.

I think 217 years is a long time to go without correcting this egregious error. I can’t believe someone hasn’t done so before. You may think that’s a bit pretentious, but I see it as a public service.  Here you go:


By William Blake (and Versebender)

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

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

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & 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 watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye eye or hand
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry a majesty so grand?

Much better!

  1. earlybird
    May 6, 2011 at 1:17 AM

    I enjoyed the preamble and your audacity paid off (phew)! Of course it’s better transposing hand and eye!

    • May 6, 2011 at 7:09 AM

      Thank you, Eb…I knew you would appreciate the subtle improvements. Vb

  2. May 6, 2011 at 3:04 AM

    Ha ha ha…I do feel Mr Blake is laughing too! Yes…I believe he is…he’s quite astounded no one corrected it earlier and he shall reply as soon as his dial up has been re-connected…

    • May 6, 2011 at 7:11 AM

      P-Cat, Yes, I believe he would approve…that dial-up is a problem isn’t it? Vb

  3. May 6, 2011 at 5:36 AM

    Astounding revision vb and I am sure the ghost of William Blake will be slapping his forehead saying “Darn! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

    Anna :o]

  4. May 6, 2011 at 7:11 AM

    Anna, That’s what I’m thinking too! Glad to be of service. Vb

  5. May 6, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    RJ~ What a clever and funny revision! I especially like “In what furnace was thy brain?”

  6. May 6, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    I like yours much better than Blake’s. Bravo!

  7. May 6, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Enjoyed that. Great fun.

  8. May 6, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    Good for you! You made it even better. Wonder what ole WB would think? 🙂

  9. May 6, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    As a Blake by marriage I’m not sure I should be laughing, but tears of laughter are pouring down my cheeks at your clever audacity.

    • May 6, 2011 at 9:53 PM

      No offense to any relatives , past or present, intended. Vb

  10. May 6, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    I never really did get much into those old rhymers much.

    But Canadian Robert Service’s “Sam McGee’ is a gem of a poem-story


  11. May 6, 2011 at 9:11 PM

    Very funny, vb. 🙂

  12. May 6, 2011 at 10:34 PM

    Oh shoot, did I step in it or what!?! I meant the rhymers of olden days.

    Willie the Shake was a good ‘un tho.

    And you beat Blake all to heck on these rhymes indeed.


  13. May 6, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    Poor Blake. He just didn’t get it, did he? 🙂 I love your revision!

  14. May 6, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    I have to give you credit for chutzpah, but what are you going to do about fearful symmetry?


    • May 7, 2011 at 9:52 AM

      Well, that’s not my problem…it’s theirs…:)

  15. May 6, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    I enjoyd the whole bit. Great mind. And only a six pack.

    • May 7, 2011 at 9:52 AM

      The things I do in the name of research!

  16. May 7, 2011 at 12:49 AM

    I’m with Mr. Walker, I really like that fearful symmetry. But, I admire your pluck and sense of humor for the undertaking. This was fun to read, and probably much more fun to actually do,


  17. May 7, 2011 at 6:43 AM

    That rhyme always bugged me too. At last someone has the courage to say, Huh?

    I enjoyed this 🙂

  18. May 7, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    This is so funny…I am guilty of skipping process notes and just reading poems, but in this case, I had to find out more. Before I read your notes, I thought too that maybe in the poet’s days symmetry was pronounced differently. Then reading the poem was a treat, because I don’t know that poem…and your revision is hilarious!

  19. nan
    May 7, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    I am rarely a rhyming writer, but do so enjoy it, and you have had some fun here. I enjoyed this very much.

  20. May 7, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    Lol! I never thought of revising somebody else poem. You did an excellent job with Blake’s poem.

  21. May 7, 2011 at 8:31 PM

    Blake will probably turn over in his grave. LOL. I liked your revision.

  22. May 8, 2011 at 3:34 AM

    i felt absolutely the same when i read that poem! 🙂

    your sense of humour is mindblowing and so is your expertise in this difficult field of funny poems.

    look forward to your posts eagerly.

  23. May 8, 2011 at 8:25 PM

    Enjoyed your post all the way through, and as a poet “powered by Google and armed with a six-pack” I feel a sibling affection. 🙂

    Well done! A sublimely entertaining take on the prompt!

    • May 8, 2011 at 8:44 PM

      Thanks, Deb…glad you have command of the the tools of the trade! Vb

  24. May 9, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    Yet another funny one!

  25. Liz
    May 22, 2011 at 10:01 AM

    This is fascinating and the whole concept so well presented that I do believe that the first commenter “got it right.” Great idea! crowsfete.blogspot.com

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