Historical Background of Blake’s The Tyger and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Poet, painter, engraver, and visionary, William Blake worked to bring about a change both in the social order and in the minds of men and Maya Angelou is an acclaimed American poet, storyteller, activist, and autobiographer. As a black woman, she is an extraordinary hero in the history of African-American Civil Rights Movement. Both of the poets are keen on using figurative concepts and superficially simple events to convey recessive ideology and connotation. The two representative poems of them, specifically ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake and ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou, have quite a lot resemblances, typifying in the symbols and gist as well. This essay will be focus on the compare and contrast these two poems in terms of the historical context and diverse understanding of liberty, symbol as well as the intention of the poets, and techniques used in poems.
Firstly, the meanings of freedom have been illustrated in two distinct ways since under the different background, William Blake and Maya Angelou underwent various of life . William Blake was born in 1757, in a turbulent era of dramatic changes in British society, in a period that many significant social changes—British Industrial Revolution, American Revolutionary War, and French Revolution—came one after another. Social and political confrontation and reformation occurred fiercely. According to that, Black’s poetry is full of revolutionary nature. In many of his poems, Black has most advocated democracy and liberty. He sympathizes with the oppressed domestic and foreign laborers and the blacks who are sold as slaves. Black’s life is often threatened by hunger and cold, this encounter agitated him to made a poem to abominate the capitalists and aristocratic rulers, thus ‘The Tyger’ was written under this situation. To compare with William Blake, Maya Angelou had a miserable childhood memory. She born in 1928 in a black’s family, the time that the southern United States was still dominated by heavy racism, and the 3K party and racists remained a common threat in the black’s lives. Moreover, in one of its most evocative (and controversial) moments, Angelou describes how she was first cuddled then raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was just seven years old. When the man was murdered by her uncle for a crime, Angelou felt responsible and stopped talking. Angelou remained silent for five years, but developed a love of language. The tragic experience of childhood made Angelou hold great aversion to social apartheid and racial discrimination. To express herself and tragic situation that black people suffered from, Angelou wrote the “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” to express her internal monologue. As whole, although both of poets explained the essence of the liberty, they understood freedom in their own opinions moulded on the backgrounds and life experiences. Blake’s understanding of freedom includes many positive implication: revolutionary, civil liberal and innovative. Since he symbolized people as tiger, the spirit he shown is fierce and active. On contrary, living in an era the black were generally oppressed, Maya Angelou held a comparatively negative emotion towards freedom which represents inaccessibility of her dream just like a bird being locked in a cage.
Moreover, with respect to the implication of the poems and the author’s intention, both of the two poems use a pacific animal to denote certain kinds of people and typify a spirit or qualities. To elaborate, in the poem ‘The Tyger’, tyger, also known as tiger symbolizes the revolution. As the preceding analysis of the poet’s background, Blake lived in an era which experience fierce social revolution. Identically, tigers are fierce as well as formidable, active, and predatory. In this case, tiger appropriately alludes to the revolution. Also, according to historical context, at that time, British governor entitled the French revolution as the ‘tigers and wolves’. Besides, in the Bible which Blake adamantly believed in, the rebellion against violence has also been assimilated to ‘burning the forest’, which correspond to “burning bright” and “in the forest of the night” in the first stanza of the poem. Hence, whether it is literally or in terms of the meaning, the ‘tiger’ is certainly interpreted as a symbol of revolution, and the ‘night’ and ‘forest’ are regarded as the old system to be destroyed. In the first stanza, ‘the tiger’ is like a burning fire, illuminating the night forest. According to previous explication, this refers to the symbol of the revolutionary fire sweeping the dark Europe. Then, Blake mainly extols the difficulty of the labor process of creating a tiger. In fact, the poet eulogizes the creating process of tiger to praise the revolutionary who experience huge amount of difficulties for seeking the truth. In the third quarter, ‘arms’ clearly refers to the power of the creator of the ‘tiger.’ In fact, the creator is the crucial reality rather than the god. Coherently, ‘shoulder’ refers to the ruthless British governor and his power, and the ‘art’ denotes the oppression and resistance of the British government. The core idea of the revolution is formed in such an environment. Once this idea is formed, it will organize a mighty revolutionary army. In the fourth stanza which depicted the creation of the tiger’s brain, the poet used images of forging iron like “hammer”, “chain”, “anvil” to symbolize the fierce class struggle. The “furnace” in the poem is the furnace of revolution. The ideology of the revolution was developed in the fierce struggle of the furnace. Throughout the poem, Blake uses the image of the tiger as a metaphor to praise the greatness of the revolution. Resembling to ‘The Tyger’, ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ also advocates and praises the adamant spirit of struggling for freedom. Uniquely, the poem set a contrast between a I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and a free bird and their characteristics as well, emphasizing on the I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings which is mostly suppressed. The first stanza depicts the distinct characteristics of the free bird.
A free bird spares no effort and is bold to adventure new things. Here, the poet praises the adventurous and intrepid spirit of the free bird. The description of the free bird secondly appears in the fourth stanza, where Angelou depicts the free bird’s ambitious thought and dream. Nevertheless, as the counterpart, a I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings has miserable fate. The I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings has been restrained in a cage, and his body is stuck. The only thing the I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings can do is to cry. The I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings craves a better life, and he conveys his dream through singing “things unknown”. Analogou to “The Tyger”, Angelou uses numerous symbols in the poem either. These two birds however serve to symbolize what Angelou had experienced in her life. The free bird can represent the longing and desire for a better life. On the side of a I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, the cage keeps the bird locked in unable to escape and enjoy the freedoms life has to offer. Maya Angelou grew up in a time and place where African Americans were segregated by law and were heavily discriminated against. These unfair laws are similar to the way the cage keeps the bird locked in. The case symbolizes the Apartheid system and racial discrimination surrounded Angelou. Also the I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings sings and screams a dreaded tune. This was a way of rebellion and protest of the enslavement. A lot of African Americans at this time also used music as their means of defiance against unlawfulness. The I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings may refer to the black people as well as Angelou herself who suffered unfair treatment and oppression of the government. However, Angelou delineates that the I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings can still sing for her dreams and sing for the freedom despite her body is confined, which symbolizes the the suppressed black people. Although they are oppressed by the government, they struggle for freedom and fight against the violent government and the unfairness as well. On that standpoint, both of the two poems use an animal to typify the force against the evil and unfairness, and praise the spirit of fighting for freedom. Also, both of them uses numerous metaphor in the poem ro refer to things in the reality. They use metaphors but no similes because the evil force at the era they lived in is so powerful and that daunt themselves to record their ideology directly. Actually, the symbol does its job better in «I Know Why The I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Sings» because in the poem, the whole text is using the bird as a metaphor, making the symbol more exact and forthright.
Additionally, when it comes to the effect of tone, two poems have different intensity on tone. “The Tyger” has a more intensive tone and mood since various literary techniques in terms of alliteration, assonance, and consonance are used in it to strengthen the image of the tiger. To begin with, the rhythm of the poem is iambic tetrameter which is quite compact, and can bring the readers a sense of passion. Obviously, there are many alliterations that are used in the poem. ‘Tiger! Tiger!’, ‘burning bright’, ‘distant deeps’, ‘began to beat’ and ‘dare its deadly’ used three plosives ‘b’, ‘d’, and ‘t’ as consonants. These three plosives are similar to artisan’s hammering sound, which are very powerful and audible, and these sounds directly correspond to the visual image of ‘furnace’, ‘hammer’, ‘anvil’, and ‘chain’. Overall, these acoustic rhythm and images bring a fearful and fierce image of the tiger to the readers. Also, the use of assonance and consonance strengthen the tone of the poem either. This poem uses the masculine rhythm which rhythms at the last stressed syllable, making the poem quite cogent and passionate. Besides, the poets used identical vowel in assonance. For example, ‘beat’ and ‘feet’, ‘bright’ and ‘night’, ‘eye’ and ‘symmetry’, ‘skies’ and ‘eyes’, ‘aspire’ and ‘fire’. The vowel ‘i’ is not only used in assonance, but also in consonance. For example, ‘tyger’ and ‘bright’ in the first line, ‘fire’, ‘thine’ and ‘eyes’ in the sixth line, and ‘tyger’ and ‘bright’ in the line 21. When these vowels are pronounced, the vocal cords will vibrate, forming a resonance in the mouth which can increase the volume. The same vowel which rhythmically repeats in the assonance and consonance can therefore increase the volume of the word, elevating the intensity of the tone on the poem. In addition, the use of repetition in the poem also strengthen the image of the tiger. These repetitions, such as two repetitions of ‘Tyger’, three repetitions of ‘fire’, three repetitions of ‘dread’, and four repetitions of ‘dear”, not only enhance the rhythm sensation of the poem, but also reinforce the formidable image of the tiger. Outside of depicting the awful image of the tiger, the poet also portrays the mysterious image of the tiger through repeatedly using question forms that are guided by ‘What’. To compare with “The Tyger”, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” is free verse and doesn’t have any rhyme. Therefore, the tone of “The Tyger” is stronger.
In conclusion, the two poems “The Tyger” and “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” have many similarities in terms of the writer’s historical context and background, the connotation as well as the purpose, and the mood. To be specific, both of the two poets lived in the society which is full of unfairness, both of the poems use specific animals as a metaphor to symbolize things in reality and both of them are tend to praise the spirit of struggling for freedom, and both of them contain fierce emotion of the writer. However there are also some differences between the two poems. First, two poems convey distinct attitude and emotional tone since “The Tyger” is more positive, whilst “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” is negative. Also, the symbol is more obviously in “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” than “The Tyger” because the whole poem is using the bird as a metaphor, while more abstract concepts are used in “The Tyger”, making the symbol more recessive. In addition, the tone in “The Tyger” is stronger since it contains several literary techniques but “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” is just free verse and doesn’t contain any rhyme.
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