Analysis of Blake’s ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger’
William Blake was an 18th century visionary, poet, mystic, and artist. Blake’s romantic style of writing allowed him to create contrasting views as those in “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”. From a young age Blake used his imagination that was frowned upon and unfortunately was never greatly appreciated during his lifetime. “William Blake believed that it was the chief function of art to reveal the truth of the spiritual world by liberating imagination” (Bowman 53). It wasn’t until after Blake’s death that his work finally received some attention. Known as a romantic, Blake continued throughout his writing to radically question religion and politics; He was very critical of the church, putting forth the effort to attack and question it. Blake put his own insight into his poems to raise the public awareness in a personal attempt to seek the truth. Perhaps he is most famous for his creative and simplistic Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience that influenced the other Romantic poets with themes of good and evil, heaven and hell, and knowledge and innocence.
With regards to religion, William Blake opposed the views of the Christian church and its standardized system. Blake, having more of a spiritual position than a religious one, considered himself as a “monistic Gnostic”, meaning that “he believed what saved a person’s soul was not faith but knowledge” (Harris 1). Blake’s view of religion was considered blasphemous, and in his works he was “concerned with the character of individual faith than with the institution of the Church, its role in politics, and its effects on society and the individual mind” (SparkNotes Editors 1).
Blake’s “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” is more suggestive to the nature of God. The idea is that the same God who made the lamb also made the tiger, so unless it is suggested that God created evil, then the tiger must not be “evil”. The fact that the same God created both the lamb and tiger suggest that they just represent two different sides of God: Two different aspects of existence. Blake’s perception of good and evil isn’t just one extreme to the other, instead, the ambiguity of evil isn’t evil; it is just the other side of good. Blake technically didn’t believe in a dichotomy, the division into two usually contradictory parts or opinions. Blake portrays his argument that a human being cannot be completely good or completely evil. This trait does not exist within human beings, and therefore does not exist in God. The other writers and minds of the 18th century were mainly deists, the belief based solely on reason. They did not show interest in the nature of God as Blake did, instead, reason was their god.
In the poem “The Lamb”, William Blake incorporates his unique style through the use of religious symbolism, creative lines, and simple patterns. “The Lamb” was a part of a series of poems called the “Songs of Innocence” that was published in 1789. Poems that were more simplistic in style and nature became more contrition and prophetic in Songs of Experience. Through simplistic structure, he chose the narrator of a child, as in this poem, told through childlike eyes, speaking of the innocence in all of human life, and that the lamb is Christ, marveling over God’s creations. The dramatic perspectives and continual allusiveness of the lyrics in “The Lamb” have shown to be a key factor in Blake’s writing and have been interpreted and reinterpreted by critics and readers ever since Blake’s death. Blake utilizes his rhetoric genius by symbolically expressing the appearance of the lamb to that of the nature of God. Within the poem, Blake brings up an interesting concept by stating, “He is called by thy name / For he calls himself a Lamb”, the lamb not only suggest innocence and the meaning of life, but at the same time conveys the theme that Christ is the lamb (Blake 662). The poem comments on how “he is meek and he is mild”, thus giving God the characteristics of goodness and purity (Blake 662). This gives a varying contrast to Blake’s poem “The Tyger” as it advocates the speculation of evil.
William Blake’s, “The Tyger”, is the poetic counterpart to the Lamb of Innocence from his previous work, Songs of Innocence, thus creating the expression of innocence versus experience “What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry” (Blake 770). “The Tyger” is part of the continued series of lyrics titled Songs of Experience that was published in 1794, as a response to the Songs of Innocence. The Songs of Experience are interpreted as the child, conveyed in Songs of Innocence, matures to adulthood and is molded by the harsh experiences and negative forces that reality has on human life, thus shows the destructiveness of the tiger. Blake utilizes his deceptively complex ideas, symbolism, and his allusiveness to portray the essence of “evil” in “The Tyger”. Blake uses “tyger” instead of tiger because it refers to any kind of wild, ferocious cat. The symbolism of the “hammer”, “chain”, “furnace”, and “anvil” all portray the image of the blacksmith, one of the main central themes in this poem (Blake 769). William Blake personifies the blacksmith to God, the creator, and Blake himself. “‘The Tyger’ is about having your reason overwhelmed at once by the beauty and horror of the natural world” (Friedlander 1). “When the stars threw down their spears / And water’d heaven with their tears” (Blake 770). “For Blake, the stars represent cold reason and objective science” (Friedlander 1). In retrospect, the creation of the tiger represents transcendent mystery and direct reference to the lamb “Did he who made the Lamb make thee” (Blake 770).
The Lamb and the Tyger are polar opposites of each other, one representing the fear of God and the other representing faith or praise of God through nature. As a child one is more like the lamb, innocent and more pure, and as they mature they earn their stripes and become aged and mature by societal tendencies of life like the tiger. The irony in the Songs of Innocence in contrast with the Songs of Experience is that they are opposites but seem to bounce off one another. They both have the same creator, both God and Blake, and suggest morals of good and evil. They are each on the extreme ends of the spirituality spectrum and in the middle is humanity, but you can’t have one without the other. In order to have good you have to balance it out with evil, in a sense where good isn’t just good, it is the other side of evil, and where evil is the other side of good.