Shere Khan is the villain of ‘The Jungle Book’. Kipling chose the big cat to play man’s nemesis in his collection of tales. The tiger has been feared and revered, loathed and celebrated, immortalized (in literature) and hunted (in real life), all at the same time. It is without doubt, one of the most beautiful creatures to have walked the Earth. I count myself among those who nurse an unrelenting fascination for this most iconic of beasts. Everything about the tiger’s bearing evokes a sense of awe and majesty. No wonder then that poets from distant England wrote verses in praise of its ‘fearful symmetry’. I am reproducing below one of the most anthologized poems of English literature, ‘The Tyger’, composed by William Blake as part of his ‘Songs of Experience’ collection, published in 1794.

‘The Tyger’ by William Blake

Tyger 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 spears
And 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?

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and depicts a tiger taking down a wild ass on a mosaic (recovered from a Roman villa in Nennig, Germany). It is credited to Carole Raddato. Tigers and wild asses would have rarely come in contact, given the contrasting nature of their habitats. But the Romans loved organizing contests between beasts they captured from remote parts of their empire. The Nenning Villa tile is one such example.