Dictionary of Literature: Tiger

(1) a very large solitary cat with a yellow-brown coat striped with black, native to the forests of Asia but becoming increasingly rare.

(2) a Borgesian symbol for the infinite, the divine, and the inability of art to fully express the experience of existence. The tiger may also be a metaphor for the mirror in Borges’ oeuvre, reflecting back upon the reader whatever he or she sees in it. There are no words that can rune the tiger.

(3) mentioned in a famous poem by William Blake, as in Borges the tiger appears to represent the ineffability of nature. Strangely, similarly, and perhaps coincidentally, Blake’s own painting of the “tyger” is blue, and therefore possibly referenced in the title of Borges’ short story Blue Tigers, from which the quote in the previous entry is taken.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright.
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye.
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

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