Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tyger, Tiger, Burning Bright: Innocence and Experience

How precisely the predator moves, balancing each step upon giant shoulders, looking for the right angle, the right moment. The grass blows lightly in the wind, and the strength of each gust is measured by a wet finger. Each minute change of the ground is studied, measure, so that the exact move be made toward the goal. And if another player should be pressured, or fall back towards the pack, the predator springs, striking with precision and a powerful elegance. How fitting then, would his name be Tiger. And how fitting also, does William Blake's poem of the same name, "The Tyger," befit the situation in which Tiger has gotten himself into.

The Tyger

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 watered 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?

First, the poem. Included in Blake's Songs of Experience, the poem has a parallel entry in Songs of Innocence, namely, "The Lamb." So we need to take the first line of that poem, "Little Lamb, who made thee?" and apply it to the Tyger. And I could expound upon the poem, and write an essay on it like I would have in an English Romanticism class, but someone has already done that at this link, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel. In the end, it's the line "Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?" that makes all the difference (thanks Frost). God made the Tyger, with all the predatory nature and maliciousness that Blake ascribes to it. The Tyger would just as soon rip a man to shreads, feeding on his bones, as a lamb would snuggle up to the same person, wanting to be fed. Experience (Knowledge) versus Innocence (Ignorance, for little does the Lamb know, but it will be used for clothing, food, and sacrifice to God).

So, let's ask the question. Who made Tiger? We have to look back at the beginning. What events conspired to have Tiger Woods appear on the Mike Douglas Show when he was two? Honestly, I don't know. I only have conjecture and suppositions. Certainly there was some adult broadcasting Tiger's skills as a Golfer to raise awareness, preparing him for future fame. I can only assume that his father had something to do with that. His father, Earl Woods Jr., gave an interview to an English magazine in 2002, linked here, in which he shows them around the house in which he lives alone. His house was transformed into a shrine for Woods' achievements, with the walls made of long lasting oak, and the floors made of Granite. The description of Earl's demeanor shows that Tiger's success was basically his entire life. Also, given his military background, it makes me think of the lead character in Pat Conroy's The Great Santini, a military father based on Conroy's own. Also, I would compare it to the Colonel's managing of Elvis' career. Although not overbearing, I suspect that the boundaries that Earl set for his son was very strict, boundaries that Tiger followed until his father's death in 2006. Then, like most people whose pendulum has gone so far in one direction, it snapped to the equal position the other way.

Also, when he appeared at his first professional tournament in 1996, and introduced himself saying "Hello World," it was clearly scripted, because that same week, he starred in a Nike Commercial with the same theme. The Observer article, linked above, calls Tiger "a corporate brochure made flesh." You could easily see the corporate world controlling and shaping Tiger, much as Blake's imagery, "And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?" While Stanford was the original reason that Tiger wore red on Sunday's, a business contract with Nike (who's shirt he wears) now requires him to wear it that day. Therefore the color of assertiveness and superiority becomes a requirement of a superior partner. How ironic.

In the end, we could conjecture forever about why Tiger behaves the way he does. But we don't have to. The answer is in the poem. "Did He who made the Lamb, make thee?" Blake paints the Tyger as a being made by the Devil, malicious towards man, evil by nature. As if it were a being cast down from Heaven with Satan. But Blake realizes that God made the predatory Tyger just as he made the Lamb. This brings up the arguments of why God allows bad things to happen to people, why hurricanes form, why the cold virus exists...etc... As far as man is concerned, he is evil as his own will makes him. Tiger has all the perfection and skill that makes him an excellent athlete, but he also has the vices that, for whatever reason, he has been unable to withstand. While the Tyger acts on instinct, on survival, the Tiger acts with his own mind, for good or ill.

One other thing about Tiger Woods and William Blake's poetry. In Blake's philosophy, man travels from the World of Innocence to the World of Experience. Innocence is blissful, and wonderful, but it also renders the person impotent and ignorant about the world around him. Woods, per his manufactured image and the boundaries that his father set, never was able to move outside of the world of Innocence until after his father's death. He never advocated any social issues, racial equality, etc... His sole purpose was to be perfect, and to project himself as perfect. So he stayed "innocent" and was placed on a pedestal and envied by the people around him.

The people who live in the World of Experience (most adults and regular people) would become jealous of this and aspire to bring him down off that pedestal and into their own world, where Experience equals Power, Knowledge (the Eden metaphor applies here), and Responsibility. This is where Tiger needs to be, because now he has the ability to make a difference in the world. He also must be responsible for his actions. He might not have the pure image he once did, but he will be stronger for it. Sure, he might not have the money or the prestige he had before, but now at least he will have power over his own decisions. It is something Elvis should have had, but never did, and he died because of it. And Michael Jackson didn't want, and he died because of it.

You can't stay in one place, or stay pure. Everyone sins, has stains upon their image, but it makes them more able to learn from those mistakes, to gain knowledge and responsibility. Without that, we are impotent against the world. That is why God made the apple, and the Tyger, because living as Adam and Eve did prior to the Apple would give God nothing to be proud of. Tiger Woods has a chance to acknowledge his sins, accept his responsibility as a person, and athlete, a role model, and do something spectacular in this world. Let us hope he does.

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