Discuss the symbolism William Blake used in his poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger."

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two poems work together to explore the paradox or seeming contradiction of a God who could form both the gentle lamb and the fearsome tiger. "The Lamb" was first published as part of a volume called Songs of Innocence. Later, Blake published these poems with another set of poems, including "The Tyger," and called this volume Songs of Innocence and Experience. The different poems—of innocence and experience—represent the two sides of the human soul. It's easy to emphasize one side of the human soul at the expense of the other, but Blake holds the two sides in tension. The Songs of Innocence represent the human soul in its childlike innocence before humankind was banished from paradise, and the Songs of Experience examine the more fearful world that emerged after the fall from grace.

The lamb symbolizes innocence. The lamb is "tender," "meek," and "mild," a representative of Jesus, the lamb of God. "The Lamb" reads as a child's lullaby and several times repeats the line:

Little Lamb God bless thee.

"The Tyger," however, shows the lamb's gentleness is not the end of the story. The same hand that fashioned lambs also created the fearsome, predatory tiger. "The Tyger" both celebrates the beauty of the tiger and questions how God could have made it—and what he was thinking as he did. Blake asks several times, in slightly different ways:

What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

He directly contrasts the tiger to the lamb:

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

The tiger symbolizes the violence, dread (Blake uses the word "dread" several times), and terror of the world, and also the ways this can be beautiful and alluring, like the tiger. We ponder what it means to live in a world that contains both the innocent and the predatory.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both "The Lamb" and "The Tyger" are poems from William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, with the speaker of the poems standing somewhere outside these two qualities. "The Lamb" is written almost as a psalm of worship as the child, who is innocent but unquestioning of his faith, asks the Lamb who has made him.  Yet, the child's question becomes rhetorical as he answers it, as well:

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:

Clearly, the Lamb is Jesus Christ, and those who take His name are Christians, and the knowledge of which the child innocently assumes.

On the other hand, Blake's "The Tyger" juxtaposes the existence of "fearful symmetry" against the innocence of the lamb.  The paradox is that "some immortal hand" has forged this symbol of evil as well as the one of innocence and good.  Thus, the speaker marvels that the "immortal hand" that has "dared its deadly terror grasp" in the act of creating the tiger could also create the lamb.  And, unlike the poem on the Lamb in which the innocent believer announces that the Lamb is Jesus, the speaker of "The Tyger" continues to wonder how good and evil can be created by the same immortal hand:

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,


Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary symbolism in Blake's poems would lie in how each personify the central animal.  In "The Lamb," Blake uses the animal to symbolize innocence.  The poem centers on the idea that the lamb represents a sense of childlike wonder, and a sense of hope and purity.  The cadence of the poem presents itself in a very simplistic and akin to a child, which substantiates the theme of innocence.  This is opposed to "The Tyger," where the beautiful terror is one of experience.  The animal is depicted in "careful symmetry" in its essence as a hunter and one that stalks its prey.  The song of innocence, as seen in the former, is contrasted in a stark manner to the images of the latter, the song of experience.