Note from Netrunner: Althought this essay appears to be a comparison of William Blake's The Tyger and The Fly (because that is what it is), it could hardly be more about Blade Runner if it tried. While reading, think of it metaphorically referring to Tyrell, Batty, Deckard and Rachael.

Fearful Symmetry
Supreme Power and Supreme Weakness
in Blake's The Tyger and The Fly

by Patrick Meaney

William Blake's The Tyger, and The Fly both use animal metaphors to discuss the dual nature of God, and supreme power. The Tyger shows how God can create a being that is a destructive force, while the fly shows how God can create a being with virtually no power. Both use literary techniques to prove their points.

William Blake's The Tyger shows the destructive force of God's creations. The poem is structured in a series of couplets. Each pair of lines rhymes with each other. Repetition is also used. The first four lines of the poem are repeated at the end of it, but slightly altered. This slight alteration of the speaker's previous logic shows how what he ponders in the poem has altered his view of the world, and the tyger.

The Tyger itself is the primary symbol within the poem. The purpose of the poem is to question God, and the creation of this clearly destructive force. Throughout the poem, the speaker ponders what motive God had in creating the tyger. The tyger is a symbol of all that is dark and evil within the world, a physical manifestation of the darker side of nature. The speaker cannot understand what would possess someone to put something on the earth that would only cause pain and sorrow.

The speaker uses strong imagery to further elaborate on this theme. He compares the tyger to a weapon being forged in the fires of hell, with a furnace and an anvil. He wonders what "could twist the sinews of thy heart," and "frame thy fearful symmetry." The speaker clearly views the tyger as something that was made to destroy, not in heaven, but in the fires of Hell, something that was devoted to pain from its inception. Blake's fiery imagery proves this.

In the final couplet of the poem, before the repetition, the speaker juxtaposes the creation of the lamb and the creation of the tyger. There is a clear difference between the speaker's perception of these two animals. He views the tyger as a symbol of all that is bad in the world, destruction and sadness, versus the lamb, who represents life, purity and happiness. With the juxtaposition of these two things, the speaker once again presents the central conundrum of the poem, the idea that God could create something so harmless, and something so harmful at the same time. The lamb is a representation of life, and the tyger is a representation of death. The speaker finds it strange that these conflicting things could come from the same being. It's ironic that the same entity responsible for the genesis of life is responsible for the genesis of death. This "fearful symmetry," the balance between life and death is an essential element for the perpetuation of life on Earth.

A central irony of the poem is the fact that even as the speaker fears, and hates the tyger, he sees beauty in him. Symmetry is accepted as the primary component that makes someone beautiful. The speaker sees the tyger as an example of "fearful symmetry," or a beauty that is scary, and disturbing. The tyger, despite being evil, clearly holds some attraction for the speaker. By presenting the tyger as a beautiful force, the speaker demonstrates the attractive nature of evil. People are inevitably drawn to it, even as they are repulsed. He hates the being that created the tyger, but at the same time is awed by the sheer power of the achievement of its creation. It's ironic that the speaker discusses the tyger with hate, but seems to attracted to it, with an almost obsessive nature. He hates it, but is drawn to it at the same time.

In The Tyger, the speaker uses the tyger as a symbol of evil. He juxtaposes the dark of the tyger, with the good and pure qualities of the lamb, pondering the agenda of God in creating both these animals. The speaker also shows the irony of evil, that while everyone is ostensibly repulsed by it, each person secretly sees it as an attractive force. He also uses fiery language to discuss the creation of the tyger.

William Blake's The Fly also talks about God's agenda in creation, but from a different perspective. Here, he shows man in the position of power, pondering the implications that the casual destruction of a fly has.

The poem has a very loose structure. There is some rhyme, but no consistent rhyme scheme. The poem chronicles the thoughts of a man who has just killed a fly. He ponders the differences between the fly and himself, ultimately coming to the conclusion that they are extremely similar, both living out their lives, hoping to avoid death.

The primary literary technique used in the poem is the juxtaposition of the fly, and the speaker. Throughout the poem, the speaker observes the fly's situation, and compares it to his own. He sees the fly as powerless, and utterly disposable at first, only to realize that another class of being would perceive humans in that same manner. He questions his own activities, living out his life "till some blind hand shall brush my wing." The speaker goes on to compare the desires of the fly and himself, realizing that they are strikingly similar. The speaker's ultimate conclusion is that he and the fly; are the same, and that he will only live "Till some blind hand shall brush my wing." Through the use of juxtaposition, we realize the similarity of the fly and the speaker.

The fly is used in the poem as a symbol of those below the speaker in society. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker casually brushes him away, as people are likely to not care about the poor and disadvantaged. Over the course of the poem, he realizes the danger in destroying things without fully exploring what they are. The speaker realizes that as easily as he destroys the fly, something can destroy him, and that there are those above him who are more powerful. By the end of the poem, he has realized that he is the fly to someone else, and even the most powerful person cannot live up to the power of God. The poem's narrative arc shows the speaker discovering this truth, and accepting it. When he says that he is a fly, he realizes that like the original fly, to someone else he is a meaningless thing that can be easily destroyed.

The Fly uses its language to present the speaker in a God like position. He holds absolute power over the fly to destroy it or to let it live. He was "thoughtless," and "brushed it away." His choice has no consequence to him, but to the fly, it is life or death. The speaker has been put in a God like position, with his ability to make that decision. The imagery of the first stanza presents this image, but then alters over the course of the poem. In the second stanza, the speaker realizes how fragile he must be to another being, and wonders if someone "shall brush my wing." The language alters to fit the speaker's new perception of the world. Blake uses language in the poem to portray the switch from Godlike power, to extreme weakness.

In conclusion, both poems use animal metaphors to discuss the nature of God, and power. The Tyger addresses the paradoxical fact that God is responsible for both life and death. He has created the lamb, something that does not prey on things that are alive. It stays to itself, living out a harmless life cycle. He has also created the tyger, which preys on other animals, killing to survive. Very few animals can stand against it. The speaker is clearly in awe of the tyger. The Fly addresses these same issues, but from a different point of view. The speaker here is in the role of the tyger at first. With the opening of the poem, he kills a fly, with no thought about it. It is instinctive, like the will to live that drives the tyger's killing. The speaker has seen what it is like to be God, and have absolute power to end the life of another being. He is to the fly what the tyger is to the speaker is in the other poem, a menace, against which there is no defense. Ultimately, the end of the fly provides a coda for both poems. In it, the speaker realizes that there will always be beings who are more powerful than we are, but that to other beings we are the same thing. At the same time, each one of us is both The Tyger and The Fly.

Copyright Patrick Meaney
Published by in the Blade Runner and DADoES Analysis Section