"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
- The Tyger, William Blake.
This makes for very gripping, very engaging writing. Sadly, none of it is very accurate.
We start at the top, and recognize that despite what William Blake told us, tigers prefer jungles. Also, despite what my words said, while tigers do hunt within jungles, there are no tigers in Africa, especially the Congolese jungles. If you see a tiger's stripes in those jungles, the poor guy is clearly lost after escaping from the Kinshasa Zoo and needs help getting back (or a bus ticket back to Asia).
What's my point? Am I here to prove my knowledge about larger felines or the flora and fauna of Africa? Is this a overdue critique of the late William Blake? Have I snapped and now have to be hypercritical about everything around me?
Quite the opposite. The excerpt and my little intro paragraph are examples of how writing can evoke emotions despite the annoying contradiction of facts. As writers, we need to keep this in mind.
If you read it in its entirety, Blake's The Tyger is not really about tigers in the literal sense. To criticize the poem for not keeping true to the behavioral ecology is about the same as focusing on the Mona Lisa's lack of eyebrows - kind of missing the larger picture. Instead, we can appreciate the author's wordplay, the evocation of the more primal nature of the world, and that of man in particular. (Read the poem, and its counterpart, The Lamb.)
The point underlying all of this is that while writing should dwell within the realm of the accurate and real, we should not let it overwhelm our natural urge to express feelings and emotions. We can talk about the tigers of Africa to a certain degree - an emotional degree - and allow them to exist in that regard. Just as long as we do not make Africa the lynchpin of the story, they can exist wherever they want, facts be damned.
And look it up - there are no tigers in Africa (outside the zoo).