Blake said that he paired these poems, which appear in his collections titled “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience,” in order to show “the two contrary states of the human soul.” Write a one page critique of the selected poems determining how effectively the poems fulfilled Blake’s stated purpose.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake was published in two phases: in a smaller edition in 1789 and a larger, expanded edition five years later. The contrast between innocence and experience builds upon and in some ways critiques Milton's contrast of the prelapsarian paradise and the fallen world. The contrast between the two states is as much about perspective as about the events and characters portrayed, with the "Experience" section taking a more pessimistic view of the fallen world and the "Innocence" section often celebrating childlike joy and wonder.

"The Lamb" is a typical example of innocence, celebrating a traditionally Christian view of the lamb as the emblem of Jesus, an unblemished sacrifice who willingly gives his life to save the world. The lamb is associated with the innocence of childhood and freedom from sin. In Jesus being born as a child, Blake emphasizes the connection of the "lamb of God" with childhood and innocence and movingly portrays the redemptive power of both.

Paired with "The Lamb" is a parallel song of experience, "The Tyger." The parallel is made explicit in this stanza:

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?

The "tyger" of the poem is an emblem of God as avenging, terrifying, and powerful, functioning as a contrast to the innocent and meek Lamb. It is effective in making the reader examine the question of how God can both be merciful and avenging, sacrificing himself to save sinners but punishing sinners with hellfire and damnation. The "tyger" is not evil but rather shows that God and the human soul derive their essential nature from duality. God and humans combine innocence with experience, meekness with strength, and the potential for self-sacrifice with ferocity. For Blake, understanding the human condition requires viewing this duality as necessary and permanent rather than as a temporary imbalance or injustice.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial