An analysis of William Blake’s “The Tiger” and “The Lamb”
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“The Lamb” is one of the poems in the Songs of Innocence, which was published in 1789. As the contrary poem to “The Lamb”, “The Tiger” in the Songs of Experience came 5 years later in 1794. In the fifth stanza of “The Tiger”, there is a question asked by Blake “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” Blake questions if the tiger was created by the same being that created the lamb. In the following part of my paper, I would try to answer this question.
There are some symbols in the two poems. In the religious books, Jesus Christ is called the God’s Lamb. So in one way, the lamb can be interpreted as Jesus or the God. Moreover, the setting and the description of animal create a sense of innocence of the lamb and a sense of evil of the tiger. The setting of “The Lamb” is in a green valley, and Blake uses such words as “little”, “wooly”, “tender”, “meek” and “mild” to emphasize the Lamb’s gentle nature. The tiger, by contrast, is a terrifying animal ‘burning’ with fire in its eyes walking in “the forests of the night”. And Blake uses “fearful”, dread”, “dreadful” these words to show the horrible image of the tiger and its power of destruction. And it seems that the tiger is forged in a furnace.
In addition, just as “innocence” is simpler than “experience”, the language and the form of “The Lamb” are easier than “The Tiger”. “The Lamb” describes the mind of a child is speaking to a lamb. And Blake uses very simple words just like a children’s poem. In this way, the author reinforces the sense of innocence. “The Tiger” is more complex. Blake uses pairs of rhyming couplets to create a sense of rhythm and continuity. The concluding verse of the poem is almost identical to the opening verse, giving the poem itself ‘symmetry’. This word is used to describe the tiger in the first stanza “What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
The two poems have a common theme, which is creation. In “The Lamb”, the narrator keeps on asking a same question:” Litter Lamb, who made thee?” There is a capital letter L, in the “Lamb”, so we know it is not the usual lamb, it refers to something else. The author in the later part of the poem answers this question: “He is called by thy name, For He calls Himself a Lamb. He is meek, and He is mild; He became a little child. I a child, and thou a lamb, We are called by His name.” Blake links the lamb (the symbol of Christ), the child and God closely together. The God, who is as innocent as a child, creates the same innocent lamb. In “The Tiger”, the narrator asks a series of questions:” 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?” just mention a few. The poem consists of altogether 15 questions without answering. It seems that the narrator is stupefied by the overwhelming power of the tiger, and wondering who dare to frame such fearful creature. ‘The Tiger’ portrays the creator as a blacksmith, moulding the tiger from fire and metal. “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?” The fifth stanza suggests that the creator is God, and the tiger is created by the same being that created the lamb.
As God create both the lamb and the tiger, Blake explores two different sides of God and God’s creation force of both good and evil keep a balance in the universe. And because innocence and experience are two states of human’s life, a person had to pass through an innocent state of being, like that of the lamb, to reach a higher state of experience, like those of the tiger. We can examine the title pages of the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience in their original form to have a clear idea of that. The two books were originally produced as illuminated books, which combine poetry and illustration in a single coherent vision. The illustrations were all engraved and colored by Blake himself. Because Blake believed that his ideas can only be fully expressed by the union of words and images. In the title page of the Songs of Innocence, a nurse is reading a book to two children, and there is an apple tree besides them, in the sky, birds are singing.
This picture indicates a happy innocent childhood and the tone of the book is optimistic. In the title page of the Songs of Experience, a young man and a young woman are weeping by the deathbed of their aged parents. This picture indicates that the two little children have grown up to learn the harsh lesson of experience. Childhood turns to adulthood and innocence thus converts to experience is the Law of nature. The tiger, although it is dread, it is full of strength, like the passion and the power of human creativity. Maybe William Blake’s own lines from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell can best explain this idea: “Without Contraries there is no Progression…”