What Immortal Hand or Eye?
Engraving in the eighteenth century was the handmaid of oil painting. Engravers
commissioned to transpose the oil paintings of masters into engravings
to be printed in
books. Since engravings can be pressed out one after the other with minimal
discrepancies between each printing, engraving became a sign of the mass
images. Blake breaks with the use of engravings as merely mass production
transposed oil painting. He uses engraving as an art form in and of itself,
rather than have
it at the service of oil painting and book printing.
Additionally, rather than use engraving for standardized, mass produced
method of printing caused "imperfections" or variations in each impression
of a plate.
These imperfections serve as part of the uniquness of each plate. In "The
striping of the tyger changes from plate to plate. One can read this striping
as a marking
of sin or imperfection. "Stripping" is found throughout the Songs of Innocence
Experience, from "And I made a rural pen/ And I stain'd the water clear"
to "And mark
in every face I meet,/ Marks of weakness, marks of woe" ("Introduction
to Songs of
Innocence" and "London"). There is a felix culpa claim made here in that
and even sin, produces a creative individuality.
The marks or stripes of the tyger in the plate can also be found on the
tree next to the
tyger. In almost every plate of "The Tyger" Blake renders the stripes at
the base of the
tree the same color and shape as the stripes of the tyger. The stripes
move from the
tyger to the tree. Furthermore, the branches at the top of the plate stripe
the verbal text
of the poem. And finally, the cryptic "y" of "tyger" marks or stripes the
from the standardized spelling, "tiger." The "y" of "tyger" serves as a
mark of difference.
(The use of "y" also highlights other key words with "y": thy, eye, and
deviating from standardization, the textual figure (word and image) is
marked as different
from a habitual rendering of the figure. This difference is the place of
In our transformation, the viewer's eyes see the visual difference made
by Blake's hands,
as well as the variant verbal texts in a state of becoming . The verbal
portion of the
transformation mutates between Erdman's edition, the Norton Anthology's
standardized version, and early drafts of the poem from Blake's notebook.
portion reflects Blake's aversion to stablizing meaning (notice, for instance,
expressions and coloring of the tyger). The mass of verbal and visual differences
transformations at work in any series of Blake's plates provokes the question:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?