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Compare ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake

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  • Pages: 7
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  • Category: Blake

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‘The Lamb’ from Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ represents the idea of purity that is woven throughout the ‘Innocence’ collection. His poem ‘The Tyger’ is in the compilation of ‘Experience’ poems which offer a darker perspective on life after learning. These two poems have many similarities and contrasting ideas; Blake depicts these two creatures in such a way that relates them to the sections they appear in and highlights their differences through language.

The structure of ‘The Lamb’ is two even ten line stanzas – one stanza a question, the other an answer – consisting of rhyming couplets. The rhyme scheme helps to create the song-like characteristic; it also makes the verse flow like a hymn which coincides with the religious symbolism. The language used is reminiscent of the Bible, this adds to the theme of religion. ‘The Tyger’ also uses rhyming couplets within its six quatrains; this and the steady metre (trochaic tetrameter) create a natural rhythm which could be interpreted as the ‘hammering’ of the creator or the beating of the heart. This language also reminds me of biblical verses, particularly the New Testament and the book of Revelation.

By almost directly copying the first stanza as the last stanza in ‘The Tyger’ the question asked is implanted in the reader’s mind and the ideas re-enforced. The contrast of the phrases ‘burning bright’ and ‘forests of the night’ could be metaphorically suggesting that the tiger is like a forest fire, the only thing burning ‘bright’ through a dark forest which all animals fear. The reiteration of the rhetorical question: ‘What immortal hand or eye/ (Could/Dare) frame thy fearful symmetry’ accentuates the question of who the tiger’s creator was. Also by replacing the word ‘could’ with ‘dare’ it asks if it is possible that someone has the power to create the tiger, why would they dare to do so? The half-rhyme of ‘eye’ and ‘symmetry’ helps to heighten the attention given to this uncertainty as all the other couplets are complete rhymes. The same issue is also raised in ‘The Lamb’ when the narrator asks the lamb ‘Dost thou know who made thee?’ but this suggests the lamb is naive and unknowing of its creator whereas in ‘The Tyger’ it is the narrator who is unsure.

The idea of both creators being God raises a fundamental issue for religion, why would a benevolent God create a creature of such darkness? ‘Did he who made the Lamb make thee?’ it seems impossible that these two very different animals, one the symbol of purity the other the symbol of suffering, could both be created by the ‘meek’ designer described in the second stanza of ‘The Lamb’. How can the God of ‘Innocence’ simultaneously be the God of ‘Experience’? Lambs are notoriously connected to religious ideas particularly relating to Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’, an icon of virtuousness. Jesus (as the lamb) sacrificed himself to take away the sins of the world. Lambs denote a gentle animal, harmless to other creatures and humans, whereas tigers are dominant predators that strike fear.

I believe ‘The Lamb’ is in the ‘Innocence’ collection, because of the aforementioned heavy connotations linked to lambs. Also a lamb, being a baby sheep, has yet to experience life. It is repeatedly described as ‘Little’ which emphasises this idea. Another method Blake uses to make the lamb appear innocent in comparison to the tiger is by the use of semantic fields. In ‘The Lamb’ the words used are natural and not synthetic/man-made for example, ‘stream’, ‘mead’ and ‘vales’, things that are yet to ‘experience’ anything different from their natural form. ‘The Tyger’ also uses words related to nature, ‘forests’, ‘skies’ ‘stars’ however this opposes a more dominant semantic field of industrial creation, ‘hammer’, ‘chain’, ‘furnace’, and ‘anvil'(which interestingly is also a tool used in art).

The industrial semantic field relates contextually as this poem was written in 1793, amidst the Industrial Revolution which involved mechanisation, this was seen as technologically advancing however caused many negative social effects. Considering this ‘The Lamb’ could be seen as representing a simpler time when things were made by hand and ‘The Tyger’ could represent the shift of manufacturing demonstrating the bad social product of industry. Also the reference in ‘The Lamb’ to its wool being ‘clothing’ can be viewed as nature being exploited by man as we use it for our own means.

Another common theme throughout ‘The Tyger’ is that of body parts, they are all human apart from ‘wings’ which suggests something supernatural. The human body parts: ‘hand’, ‘feet’, ‘eyes’ and ‘shoulders’ could lead to anthropomorphism, showing humans as ‘evil’ as the creature being described. Also by giving the creator human tools the same effect is created but instead likens God to humans. Perhaps both of these complimentary poems could be seen as an allegory; the two sides of humanity, highlighting the contrast of good and evil which are in all of us. This analogy fits in with the idea of the creator, as humans ask themselves ‘Who made [me]’ why would a God who created good in us also create evil? Or is this because of free will, after gaining a posterior knowledge we naturally gain evil? ‘The Lamb’ also uses anthropomorphism in the phrase ‘For he calls himself a lamb’ and so fits in with this theory.

There are many references to art throughout both poems and it could be argued that God is being used as an analogy for an artist. In ‘The Tyger’ the first art reference is to the tigers ‘fearful symmetry’. This is paradoxical as ‘fearful’ suggests something of chaos and ‘symmetry’ suggests order. This could add to the theory of the tiger, the ‘art’ of the tiger, being misunderstood. This could contextually relate to Blake’s life, as he was not a valued artist during his lifetime, people may have seen his work as ‘fearful art’. The later phrase ‘Did he smile his work to see?’ could relate to Blake’s work also, did he like his art? Even though everyone else didn’t appreciate or perhaps understand it, just as nobody understands the tiger and why God made such a fearful creature. In ‘The Lamb’ the designer ‘Gave thee clothing of delight/Softest clothing, woolly, bright;’ this design could represent conventional ‘nice’ art, that is delightful, bright and practical. The ‘artist’ in this poem appears to have got it right.

While ‘The Lamb’ created a pastoral idyll ‘The Tyger’ seems to have derived from darkness perhaps suggesting the work of another supernatural being, the devil. This idea is re-enforced in the line ‘In what distant deeps or skies.’ The narrator realises that its origins are in a faraway place but doesn’t know if it is the ‘skies’ referring to heaven or the ‘deeps’, hell. Additionally the line ‘On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand, dare seize the fire?’ creates a further ambiguity. This line suggests perhaps an angel; it could be referring to Satan again as the ‘fallen angel’. It also reminds me of the story of Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods and was eternally punished for doing so. Perhaps here the fire is metaphorical for the tiger and its creator, God, creating evil, making humans eternally question Him thereafter? Or if it is Satan maybe he is pleased with creating this, ‘Did he smile his work to see?’

‘The Tyger’ is less likely to be in the ‘Innocence’ collection because of all the references to evil; many people believe that the trait of evil cannot come from birth but is something that develops over time, after gaining experience of life. However this is contradictory from the poem where the tiger is evil from the very root of being created. Placing this poem in ‘Innocence’ would seem out of place however it is more open for interpretation that ‘The Lamb’ as it is still about the birth of a creature and also ignorance which are ideas associated with innocence. Also perhaps this could mean that the tiger is misunderstood and God loves the tiger, but we as inferior beings do not understand why He would put such a seemingly terrifying creature into our world. This could be an analogy for the ancient argument that we can’t have a loving God who created suffering, which is counter-argued by the theory that we just don’t understand its purpose.

Poetic devices throughout the two poems aid the effective imagery created. The repetition of vowel sounds in ‘The Lamb’ echoes the sound of a lamb bleating especially the double ‘ee’ sound. These soft phonetics also make the poem sound pleasant to the ear in contrast to ‘The Tyger’ which has harsh sounding letters within words such as ‘skies’, ‘seize’ and ‘spears’. ‘The Lamb’ uses anaphora and alliteration in the words ‘Little lamb’ with the end phrase morphing from ‘Who made thee’ to ‘I’ll tell thee’ and finally ‘God bless thee’. The effect of anaphora here is to show a chronological sequence of the narration and reminds me of a religious story. ‘The Tyger’ also uses anaphora in the word ‘what’ which is repeated twelve times throughout the poem this emphasises the questioning nature of the narrator and the brute fact of the unknown.

These counterpart poems explore ideas of innocence and experience by displaying a sense of what Blake understands by these terms. He contrasts good and evil within a religious framework questioning the benevolent God and questioning humanity. There are many contextual references which gives the reader a sense of the times Blake lived in and a slight insight into his life and work. There are numerous points of comparison even though the poems are individually unique.

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