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I have often heard that William Blake’s The Tyger is supposed to resemble a nursery rhyme.

For example, in analysis I found on “Mercs Poetry Blog”:

This poem, despite its mature themes and connotations reminds me of nursery rhymes from my childhood, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The utter fascination with a natural being, the rhyme structure, the change between trochaic and iambic tetrameter and the repetition of the first stanza at the end with a slight modification are all shared characteristics between the two pieces. However, The Tyger came first, as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was penned in 1804.

The blogger says that the poem reminds him/her of a nursery rhyme due to its resemblance to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. However, they also mention that The Tyger came first.


I have 2 questions:

  1. Does The Tyger have other characteristics which resemble nursery rhymes that could have been picked up on by a contemporary audience?
  2. Since The Tyger was probably intended to be sung, is there any evidence to suggest that Blake intended for it to be sung in a manner similar to a nursery rhyme?

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Compare the illuminated versions of The Songs of Innocence and of Experience, wherein we find The Tyger to the roughly contemporary Tommy Thumb's Song Book and there are many similarities. The Tommy Thumb book was apparently first published in 1745 but I have included an 1815 edition.

The page layouts are similar: one poem per page. Both books have many illustrations. Notice that the Tommy Thumb book never uses the exact phrase 'nursery rhyme', but says the songs are to be sung to children 'by their nurses' and is even credited to 'Nurse Lovechild' and prefaced by a 'Letter from a Lady on Nursing'

Tommy Thumb Frontispiece

It seems to me that the very genre of 'nursery rhyme' was still it its infancy when Blake was composing his songs. It's not clear to me where the term itself originates. Surely the folk songs predate the printed collections, and the collections predate the labelling of a genre.

As the blog you quoted mentions, the 'fascination with natural being' is consistent with fairy-tales and children's stories in general, a feature that I would say is noticeable by audiences across eras and cultures. Consider Aesop's fables, LaFontaine's fables and even examples outside of Europe like the Jakarta tales.

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