To accompany last week's reading of The Tyger by Matt Ray Brown, artist Linda Richardson shares her experience working with Year 4 pupils to bring to life their responses to the poem. This classic poem from William Blake the storyteller never fails to engage the imagination!
One Friday a couple of weeks ago, I was artist in residence at Linton Heights School in Cambridgeshire, and had the wonderful opportunity of introducing William Blake to about 180 children. They loved him! I began each session by reading The Tyger, and encouraged them to listen, not just with their brains, but with their whole being.
Painting and poetry is a full body experience, I told them, and they were a joy as they had genuine responses of wonder, excitement, curiosity, bewilderment and surprise. They brought their sketchbooks with them and I am sure William Blake would have loved the weird and wonderful images they drew. I encouraged them to react from their deep imagination, not their mind, and that there was no right or wrong way to respond. What a joy children are.
Linda Richardson is an artist. Based in Cambridge, England, she makes work that engages the imagination and intuition and tries to make a creative space for the viewer to connect their inner nature with their outer nature to form ideas that are not rooted in convention, reason or rationality. However neither are they pure fantasy that provides an escape from humdrum life. Linda wants instead to awaken the senses to the beauty and wonder of the world in which we live, to activate the attention to the mystery of the human experience.
Here is the painting that Linda shared with the class at Linton Heights School, inspired by Blake’s poem, as seen in the photograph above.
The third in our exclusive series of actor Matt Ray Brown reading William Blake's poems is The Tyger - perhaps the most famous of Blake's poems, alongside the 'hymn' version of Jerusalem. As with the other sessions in this series, filmed by Finding Blake's Jonnie Howard, Matt was performing The Tyger in Blake's flat at South Molton Street in London, adding an extra magic to these films.
The TygerTyger Tyger, burning bright,In the forests of the night;What immortal hand or eye,Could frame thy fearful symmetry?In what distant deeps or skies,Burnt the fire of thine eyes?On what wings dare he aspire?What the hand, dare seize 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 spearsAnd water'd 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,Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Finding Blake team member Mark Goldthorpe says of this poem: “Many of us have strong childhood memories of The Tyger being read to us at primary school or at home. Something of the power of the animal and of Blake’s depiction — through words such as ‘fearful’, ‘fire’ and ‘dread’ — impresses itself into our minds and persists in our imaginations. Just as master storyteller William Blake intended, of course. I wonder if he sensed that this poem was one that would certainly outlast him? The imagery of the tyger, a majestic large cat “burning bright” in the dark recesses of our psyches, connects us with something primeval. In Blake’s own experience, that primeval is the link between creator and creature, the mystery of each revealing itself (but only partially) to human consciousness, and the ‘balance of contraries’ between the light and dark aspects of creation: lamb and tyger, innocence and experience. For many of us now, perhaps, the primeval is that state of imagination which can rediscover itself in all-too-human imagery grasping at a more-than-human world. For the child, it is reality. And for the tyger?…”
Matt Ray Brown reads eight Blake poems for Finding Blake and appeared in the original film for our Crowdfunder video. You can find all Finding Blake videos, as they are posted, on the Finding Blake Films at a Glance page in our Blakean Archive section. You can explore Matt’s work as an actor, including his showreel at Mandy.com, ‘the world’s largest creative community of actors, film and TV crew, theatre professionals, child actors, voiceover artists, dancers, singers, musicians, models and extras.’
Artist Linda Richardson recently took The Tyger to share with pupils at Linton Heights School in Cambridgeshire. See her post, Tyger School, for further confirmation of the enduring power of William Blake’s great poem.
Our latest contributing - author, storyteller, writer and educator - Marion Leeper reflects on her childhood, teenage and adult encounters with William Blake through two of his paired poems from Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
You don’t need to be a scholar or an expert to find a connection to Blake’s poetry. These two short poems have grown with me all my life.
I first met Infant Joy aged about six: I had to copy it, in careful copperplate, for handwriting practice. It wasn’t until I went to college that I discovered Infant Sorrow.
‘Infant Sorrow’ Artist: William Blake Image (public domain): Wikipedia
My mother groand! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
These words mirrored how I saw my teenage self, a free soul leaping into the world, struggling my way to freedom and adulthood from the fetters of family life.
Struggling in my fathers hands:
Striving against my swaddling bands:
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mothers breast.
It was the second verse, though, that spoke to me as a young mother, discovering how powerful a baby is, a being that can be too much for two grown adults, in the sleep-deprived stretches of the night. Blake looks so intensely into the moment: he captures exactly the way a baby lifts up its head to look out at the world, but then, finding the effort too much, falls back and nuzzles the mother’s shoulder.
‘Infant Joy’ Artist: William Blake Source (public domain): Wikipedia (click image to link)
Infant Joy, that piece of copperplate writing, took me much longer to love. My tutor at college warned me not to underrate Songs of Innocence. Misery and experience are easy to put into words: innocence is much harder. I didn’t buy it. Infant Joy seemed banal and sentimental to me.
I have no name,
I am but two days old --
What shall I call thee?
But when I started teaching, I began to understand the poem’s power. The poet asks questions of the child – ‘What shall I call thee?’ – and listens to the answer!
I happy am
Joy is my name --
Sweet joy befall thee!
An adult valuing a child’s ideas: that seemed to me a radical idea in education then, and – with a recent Ofsted report questioning the value of play in the education of young children – no less radical now. Blake, who saw angels on every tree on Peckham Rye, depicts a baby’s smile, an infant’s knowledge of joy, as a precious gift for humanity.
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee;
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while,
Sweet joy befall thee.
The infants in both poems are born rich, strong and powerful, to borrow a phrase from the educators of Reggio Emilia. The babe in Infant Sorrow is already bound: like too many children still today, destined for a life of hardship simply by the situation into which they are born. But the child in Infant Joy, with an adult that recognises and shares in that joy, symbolises a hope for the future.
My tutor was right. It’s too easy to accept the bound child. It’s much harder to fight for the innocent child, and their right to a world of joy. That’s why I think Blake deserves to be celebrated now, this poet who can see heaven in a grain of sand: the hardships and social injustices which cut him like knives are still hurting us today. But Blake sees beyond them to what might be, and tells us, loud and clear, that we don’t have to put up with injustice.
Marion Leeper is a storyteller, writer and educator. Based in Cambridge, England, she grew up in a family of actors, raconteurs, tellers of tall tales and downright liars. She has been listening to and telling stories (true and less true) for longer than she can remember. She tells stories for children of all ages, and specialises in multi-sensory storytelling for the very young and for people with learning difficulties. She has toured her adult shows to clubs and festivals around the country and internationally. Based in Cambridge, Marion and her amazing story mat are familiar visitors to museums, schools and libraries around the region. You can find out more at marionleeperstoryteller.co.uk
The Reggio Emilia approach to preschool and primary education is a student-centered philosophy. “At its core is an assumption that children form their own personality during early years of development and are endowed with ‘a hundred languages’, through which they can express their ideas. The aim of the Reggio approach is to teach how to use these symbolic languages (e.g., painting, sculpting, drama) in everyday life. It was developed after World War II by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia, Italy, and derives its name from the city.” (Wikipedia) You can discover more at the Reggio Children website, where you will also find The Hundred Languages, a poem by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of Reggio Emilia’s educational philosophy (translated by Lela Gandini).
You can find many of William Blake’s poems, including Infant Sorrow and Infant Joy at pages listed in our More Resources pages.