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William Blake's Imagination of Humanity and Divinity

Updated on January 15, 2015

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English painter, printmaker and notable poet. His poetry has been characterized as pre-Romantic, exhibiting qualities of Romanticism, a movement marked by the use of emotion and self-expression as an art source. Additionally, his poetry covers religion and diverged from conventional religious poems portraying Jesus as a philosopher or messianic figure, rather portraying him as a creative being, even likening him to human beings.

Below is a close reading of two of Blake's more renowned poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger." These poems present prototypes of the relationship between humanity and divinity that Blake imagines.

Portrait of William Blake

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"The Tyger"

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
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?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The largely question-basis of the poem evokes a sense of the sublime. The speaker positions himself at the most humble position in the poem, as if in the audience looking up at the Tyger, object of admiration, placed on a pedestal by an unknown, omniscient creator of the Tyger. The speaker speculates that the Tyger might be created by a God perhaps, a being with an “immortal hand or eye.” In his imagining of the creator, as or because the creator is so tough to imagine, he uses terms associated with human occupations to attempt to capture the nature of the creator. He likens the creator to an artist who might’ve designed the Tyger’s symmetry and body form. He mentions the art: “What shoulder, & what art, Could twist the sinews of thy heart?” He also speculates that the creator might be a blacksmith, mentioning the “hammer,” “chain,” “anvil” and “furnace.” This creation even makes the stars jealous (“he stars threw down their spears and watered heaven with their tears”), possibly replacing them as a fearsome creation on Earth.

While the speaker is in the dark fantasizing about the creator, his likening the creator to an artist or blacksmith seems to align the nature of the creator with that of human beings, suggesting that potentially human beings have these powers that the creator of the Tyger does. The poem might even be empowering human beings as they do the creator.

"The Lamb"

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice:
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb I'll tell thee:
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.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

In “The Lamb,” the child-speaker takes on a didactic tone in instructing the Lamb on the beneficence of the creator who has endowed it with life, a niche by the stream, wool (which he calls “clothing”) and a voice. “He is called by thy name,” the child informs the Lamb of the creator and seems to reference Jesus, the son of the creator. Indeed, Jesus regarded himself as a Lamb of God, as he regarded all human beings. Not only is Jesus the son of the creator, he is also the manifestation of the creator in physical form: “He became a little child.” The word “became” suggests a transformation, likening the creator to the child. Here, the creator and Jesus are brought to the same level as the child, and then also the lamb: “I a child & thou a lamb, we are called by his name.” Both the child and the lamb are called by the creator’s name, perhaps indicating that they are manifestations of the creator, that they are creations of the creator, and/or that they are the creator himself.

Brief Comparison

As in “The Tyger,” an omniscient being is likened to the human being, although the omniscient creator is more clearly articulated in “The Lamb,” in which the child evokes the name “God,” while he is speculated to be like an artist or a blacksmith in “The Tyger.” Both poems also evoke a deep admiration and awe for the creations of God, while at the same time evoking the human ability to think metaphysically about creation. While Blake shows reverence toward a supreme creator, he is immodest in his portrayal of human creative capabilities, and while appearing to adapt a humble tone actually raises the status of human beings next to their creator.

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