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.
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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