Please note, you can access all the explanatory and inspirational Freedom Essays at the end of this Freedom Essay. Wednesday’s explanatory essays and Friday’s inspirational essays are numbered in order of appearance, so one is odd and the other even numbered.
This is inspirational Freedom Essay 28
William Blake’s Tiger Tiger that
burns bright in the night
Written by Jeremy Griffith, 2017
The human condition is essentially the riddle of why humans are competitive and aggressive when the ideals are to be cooperative and loving, however, it needs to be emphasised that the deeper meaning of the human condition is more elusive. Indeed, the human condition has been such a difficult issue for humans to think about and confront that many people now have very little idea of what the human condition actually is, thinking it refers not to the reality of our species’ immensely troubled psychology, but to the state of widespread poverty and physical hardship in human life, or to problems such as human inequality. But these problems are only manifestations and aspects of the human condition. As is explained in F. Essay 13, the truth is, the human condition is a much more profound and serious issue that goes to the very heart of who we all are, and it is this deeper meaning that needs to be fully appreciated in order to recognise and admit how truthful and precious the real ‘instinct v intellect’ explanation for our psychologically upset state is that is presented in FREEDOM and throughout these F. Essays.
To help convey what the human condition really is, consider the following words from the renowned South African author Alan Paton, which he submitted to TIME magazine following their request that he contribute an essay on apartheid in South Africa. Rather than that essay, however, they instead received, and published in its place, a deeply reflective article on Paton’s favourite pieces of literature. In what proved to be the writer’s last work, Paton wrote:
I would like to have written one of the greatest poems in the English language — William Blake’s “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright”, with that verse that asks in the simplest words the question which has troubled the mind of man — both believing and non believing man — for centuries: “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?”
The reason Blake’s 1794 poem The Tiger resonated so strongly with Paton, and is one of the most famous poems in the English language (it has been described as ‘the most anthologized poem in English’ (The Cambridge Companion to William Blake, ed. Morris Eaves, 2003) and is a mainstay of the English curriculum in schools), is because of its profundity, which can be clearly understood now that the human condition has been explained. (See F. Essay 5.)
As explained in paragraph 1144 of FREEDOM, the opening lines of Blake’s poem, ‘Tiger, Tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night’, refer to humans’ great fear and resulting denial of the issue of our less-than-ideal, seemingly imperfect, ‘fallen’ or corrupted state or condition — a subject we have consciously repressed and yet one that ‘burn[s]’ ‘bright’ in the ‘forests of the night’ of our deepest awareness. The very heart of the issue lies in the line, ‘Did he who made the lamb make thee?’ — a rhetorical question disturbing in its insinuation that we are wholly unrelated to ‘the lamb’, to the world of innocence.
The poem raises the fundamental question involved in being human: how could the mean, cruel, indifferent, selfish and aggressive ‘dark side’ of human nature — represented by the ‘Tiger’ — be both reconcilable with and derivative of the same force that created ‘the lamb’ in all its innocence?
As Paton identified, despite humans’ denial of it, the great, fundamental, underlying question that ‘has troubled the mind of man’ has always been, are humans part of God’s ‘work’, part of ‘his’ purpose and design, or aren’t we? In other words — as is addressed in F. Essay 21 on ‘The integrative meaning of existence’ — why don’t humans live in accordance with the cooperative, loving integrative meaning of existence?
It is important here to distinguish between Blake’s use of the ‘Tiger’ as a metaphor to represent the issue of the competitive and aggressive ‘dark side’ of human nature and the false ‘savage instincts’ excuse that dishonestly claims that humans are competitive, aggressive and selfish because we are victim to savage animal instincts within us. (The dishonest ‘savage instincts’ excuse is explained in F. Essay 16.) As the title of Blake’s book of poems, Songs Of Innocence and Of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, clearly shows, Blake understood that humans have an ‘innocen[t]’, ‘lamb’-like, cooperative and loving moral instinctive heritage, not a competitive, aggressive instinctive heritage, and that the competitive and aggressive ‘dark’, ‘Tiger’-like side of humans’ ‘Two Contrary States’ relates to our ‘Experience’-based conscious mind’s psychologically upset competitive and aggressive nature or condition that is peculiar to humans. (F. Essay 52 presents a short history of some of the many thinkers who have recognised the true ‘instinct vs intellect’ elements involved in the human condition.)
Understanding that the human condition is psychologically derived, not innate, means that Blake also understood that our condition would be healed when the explanation of the human condition was at last found — unlike instincts which we are born with and are thus unchangeable, psychosis can be healed with understanding. As Blake famously prophesised in his appropriately titled 1790 poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, ‘When the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.’ And, interestingly, the final words of Paton’s acclaimed 1948 book about apartheid, Cry, the Beloved Country, also allude to humanity’s dream of one day finding the real answer to why humans don’t live in accordance with the cooperative, loving integrative meaning of existence, and, through finding that answer, freeing itself from the terrible ‘bondage of fear’ of our condition: ‘But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.’
Humanity’s hope and faith has always been that one day we would be able to explain the human condition and reconcile ‘the Two Contrary States’ of ’innocence’ and ‘experience’, and, as a result of doing so, liberate ourselves from ‘the bondage’ of our species’ immensely psychologically upsetting sense of unworthiness or guilt. And it is this explanation of the paradox of the human condition — this all-important, world-saving, psychosis-addressing-and-relieving, real biological explanation of the human condition — that is presented in FREEDOM and throughout these F. Essays. And as is explained in F. Essay 17, the effect of finally knowing and understanding and living with this explanation is that it transforms humans from ‘the bondage’ of their psychologically insecure, human-condition-stricken existence to a psychologically secure and mature, human-condition-free state. This is the explanation that lifts the so-called burden of guilt from the shoulders of the human race. This is the explanation that ends the condemnation that we humans have had to endure for so long, that explains that ‘he who made the lamb [DID] make thee’!
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Please Note, you can access any of the following explanatory and inspirational Freedom Essays by clicking on them. They are also available on our homepage at .
These essays were composed during 2017 by Jeremy Griffith, Damon Isherwood,
Fiona Cullen-Ward & Brony FitzGerald at the Sydney WTM Centre.