An Explication of William Blake's The Lamb and The Tyger: A Structuralist Approach

Williams Blake is of the most read and anthologized of Romantic writers because of the simplicity of the poetic language he uses to convey perplexing ideas. The Romantic period itself is rife with literature that makes reference to the supernatural. In particular Blake's The Lamb and The Tyger both being from his volume Songs of Innocence and of Experienceare poems that illustrate Blake's analysis of the supernatural from a Judeo-Christian context. The poems serve as critiques of perspectives of God's interaction with the world revealing a duality that conceptualizes and reflects the burgeoning interests in the sciences and development of pseudo-sciences during the late eighteenth century. Explicating the poems separately and synchronizing the themes and techniques used serve as clarifications as to why Blake's work has profound effects and successes.

In The Lamb the speaker of the poem evokes a tone reminiscent of a parent speaking to a child, “Little Lamb, who made thee? [...] Gave thee life & bid thee feed, By the stream & o'er the mead.” (1) The opening stanza is composed of these types of questions clearly preparing to answer these particular questions that would be difficult to answer without a reference to the supernatural. In fact, the opening stanza evokes the religious symbol of the lamb. The lamb in the context of Christianity has an interesting symbolic representation of Jesus Christ and it simultaneously servers as a symbol of God's connection with humanity. In the cannon, Christ is described as the lamb of God but he is also depicted as a Shepard of lambs. The lambs are, as Blake is hinting to in the opening stanza of The Lamb,humanity. The symbol is effective because it solidifies the rapport the speaker is constructing between God and the child.

The questions put forth by the speaker in the opening stanza of The Lamb also serves as a psychological calibration for the child. The questions prepare the child for the answers that are to be provided. It is safe to assume that the speaker of The Lamb is speaking to a child young enough to not have contemplated the origin of life but old enough to adequately conceptualize theological answers. The introduction of questions and immediate gratification of a clear and basically absolute answer is an interesting technique that is particularly successful because it does not confuse the reader. The calibration basically reveals a side of the human experience that is hidden and the answer that ensues serves as an illumination of the unknown area. The speaker exclaims to the child, “Little Lamb I'll tell thee, Little Lamb I'll tell thee,”(1) after posing the primary question “Little Lamb who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee” (1)? Each of these lines are written in short couplets that provide a continuity of simplicity in terms of technique but also an elevated level of excitement in terms of theme. The success of Blake's couplets here are a reflection again of the simplicity of The Lamb because the couplets could easily be written by a child, keeping the language and content within the scope of a child's understanding.

Blake's speaker in The Lamb follows suit with the psychological calibration by conveying an element of togetherness between Christ and the child, and ultimately all of humanity;

“He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb:

He is meek & he is mild,

He became a little child:

I a child & thou a lamb,

We are called by his name” (1).

More specifically, these lines align the child with the supernatural with a comfortable tone that makes the idea warm, encouraging the rapport being spoken of. The technique Blake is using here serves as gratification for the child because it does not have complicated theological terms but simple language that answers the initial questions with the warmth of the lamb who is Christ. Blake proceeds to close the last stanza with another couplet, “Little Lamb God Bless thee. Little Lamb God bless thee” (1). These lines close the poem with an incredibly positive message. The couplets of The Lamb if read alone could basically be a poem of its own right that illustrates the idea of the entire piece because they simply propose the questions and more or less answer them directly.

In retrospect of his poem The Lamb Blake's The Tyger takes an entirely different perspective of God in relation to humanity. The poem has a much more daunting theme introducing the tiger as a key figure relative to the lamb of The Lamb.Similarly to The Lamb,The Tyger opens with a series of questions,

“Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry” (2)?

The language Blake uses here suggests a fearful view of God. It is question why God would create a dangerous creature like the tiger. This provides the reader with a more critical lens of analyzing God's interaction with humanity. The speaker of The Lamb speaks in absolutes in reference to the supernatural, while in The Tyger,the questioning does not bolster a rapport with God, but questions why there should be one. Blake creates a theme of fear of the unknown here that is interesting because it is in the same volume of The Lamb.The Tyger is basically the negative reciprocal of The Lamb because it challenges God.

The images in The Tyger are also constructed with darker themes that portray a more cold and violent God.

“What hammer? What the chain?

On what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? What dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp” (2)?

The imagery here is akin to the blacksmith and not to the gentle Shepard of The Lamb.The images are rigid and evoke images of fire, molten metal, a dangerous environment which ultimately translates to a negative creator that is not as concerned with the safety of humanity as suggested in The Lamb.Blake is structuring a system here that defies the comforts provided to the child in The Lamb.The Tyger balances the perspectives of God, being reluctant to suggest that God is an absolute being of good. It could also serve, however, as a mystification of God because humanity would not suggest absolute benevolence and create a dangerous creature like the tiger. Blake deepens the mystery of God after suggesting his readers relate to God. The technique used here is successful because it inverts the notions of The Lamb.

William Blake's poem The Lamb is an interesting piece that can serve as a survey of popular perspectives on God and humanity. TheTyger can be used to challenge the themes of The Lamb and reference possibly the challenges of religion by the growing interest in science of the late eighteenth century. Both of the pieces are reminiscent of the comingling and disagreements of the scientific community and religious communities of the eighteenth century and it continues to be a key issue modernly.

Works Cited

1. Blake,William."The Lamb." TheNortonAnthologyofWorldLiterature. 2nded.Vol.E.NewYork: Norton,2002.783.Print.

2. Blake,William."The Tyger." TheNortonAnthologyofWorldLiterature. 2nded.Vol.E.NewYork: Norton,2002.786-87.Print.


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Comments 4 comments

K Talukdar 4 years ago

It's a great work, innovative one. Still, I think, its not the 'immortal hand' created 'Lamb' and 'Tiger' in a different way or of different nature; but we look at it this way. Whoever has created, He created to enhance beauty in his creations. He never made 'Tiger' so fearful by nature. We look at it and find fearful because it hurts in our aspirations. There is only blessing of the immortal hand around us. We need to pick up. There are people who tame this fearful animal and sleeping in the same bed together. For them God has created the tiger as lie as the lamb.

shokie 4 years ago

this is a great piece of work it really helped me with my english homework and it gave me a clear idea of what i had to do in my essay and im hoping i get a really good level, as i have read this =]

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HeavyDosage 3 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario

I find the balance between these poems interesting because of what it reveals about Songs of Innocence/Experience as a whole. The speaker from "The Lamb" appears to be a part of a more idillic world, but there is some hint that not all is what it seems, for the child's understanding is limited: the speaker (likely a child) is wholly naïve of the potential for it's creator to be rigid and destructive as well as free, caring and creative. The child can only answer relative to his own limited understanding, for he knows what the Lamb is only so far as he understands his own world: his questions are largely rhetorical - he can tell the lamb that it is like himself, and that he himself is like Jesus/God, and so on. It is lambs Shepherded by lambs, but that circular thought holds nothing outside of itself.

"The Tyger" interests me because, while the speaker here is a part of the world of the experienced/adult/technological/violent, it has not lost sight of the world of the innocent. This has me assume that, as far as Blake is concerned, the Songs of Innocence is understood relative to itself in terms of innocence, but the Songs of Experience is understood relative to both "sides." If I think of both versions of "The Chimney Sweeper," it is easy to see that the cynicism is conceiled by the naievete of the 'innocence' speaker, and only understood by viewing the poem in context, while the cynicism in the 'experience' counterpart is very obvious by the speaker himself, with barely (though still slightly apparent) any understanding of the 'innocence' perspective.

Walwyn 2 years ago

Blake used metaphors in all his writing he is retelling the myths of Muggletonians and the Tyger is no exception. In the Marriage of Heaven and Hell the Tygers of Wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction. In Europe a Prophecy:

"Thought chang’d the Infinite to a Serpent, that which pitieth

To a devouring flame; and Man fled from its face and hid

In forests of night: then all the eternal forests were divided"

Blake uses the metaphor of the forest elsewhere to describe the dogmatic either in politics or religion.

In the Four Zoas Blake writes of Urizen's rebellion:

"I hid myself in black clouds of my wrath; I call'd the stars around my feet, in the night of councils dark, the stars threw down their spears & fled naked away."

When Blake wrote the Tyger the fire of revolution (wrath) was burning in France and it with that one needs to understand the poem. The Tyger's creator is not the creator of the Lamb.

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