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Songs of Innocence and of Experience

by William Blake

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

William Blake used symbolism in his poems "The Lamb" and "The Tiger" in order to contrast two different aspects of the human experience and of God's creation. While the lamb symbolizes the purity, goodness, and innocence of the world before the fall from grace in Eden, the tiger symbolizes the danger, mystery, and fearsomeness of the world after humanity was banished from paradise.

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The lamb and tiger are symbolic of the state of man before and after the fall from grace in the garden of Eden, or perhaps the lamb is more representative of a kind of purity of spirit or innocence, whereas the tiger is evidence that the world is a dangerous and mysterious place. More simply still, the lamb is symbolic of good, the tiger of evil.

It's fair to say that "The Lamb" is more childlike in structure and tone and that this childlike innocence is the essence of the lamb. It's also true that the poem is structured as a kind of quiz: the poet poses a series of rhetorical questions about the Creator ("Dost thou know who made thee?"). In that sense, we can understand the lamb as symbolic of the goodness of creation and the unconditional love of God.

"The Tyger" is also a kind of argument, in which the poet poses a series of questions about the creator of the tiger. Here, the tiger is symbolic of mortal dread, of a fierce monster that lurks "in the forests of the night," suggesting both the physical animal and a kind of irrational fear. The tiger is directly contrasted with the lamb—the poet demands to know if the same God who made the lamb could make the tiger ("Did he who made the lamb make thee?"). It is through this poetic contrast that Blake is able to show the doubleness of God's creation and how good and evil can coexist.

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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:

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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.

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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,

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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.

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Compare and contrast William Blake's poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger."

Both "The Lamb" and "The Tyger" address the image and role of God, yet they present contrasting views of the Creator.

In "The Lamb," the image of God is presented in an innocent, caring manner. The message is delivered with a rhyme pattern and cadence that lends a childlike song-song quality to the poem. The meter is light; the repetition focuses on the little lamb. We are reminded of Christ, who is known as the Lamb of God and whose nature was "mild" as he "became a little child." The connotations here are the sacrificial nature of the Son of God for mankind. God is seen as nurturing, providing food and "clothing of delight" for his creations.

"The Tyger" paints quite a different portrait of God's creations and, therefore, of God's abilities. The tone of this poem is dark and sinister, with words like night, fearful, dread, and twist shaping the tone. The tiger isn't an innocent creation; it has power and the ability to kill. The question eventually becomes this: Did the creator of the innocent lamb also intentionally shape the features of the deadly tiger? And because this is a rhetorical question, that becomes a question in itself. How and why did God create things of deadly power to exist in the same world as the innocent lambs?

There aren't any easy answers provided in "The Tyger," and those are questions that mankind has struggled with for over two thousand years. The ways the image of God are contrasted reflect the intellectual struggles of man to analyze the nature of God through the nature of His creations.

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Compare and contrast William Blake's poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger."

"The Lamb" appears as a song of innocence and "The Tyger" as a song of experience in Blake's Songs ofInnocence and Experience.

They are alike in both being poems about God's creation. In both poems, the question of what kind of God made the animal in question is raised.

In "the Lamb," the lamb is depicted as gentle and sweet, with "softest clothing woolly bright." The narrator asks the lamb who made him and answers that it was God. This creator God is pictured as a lamb as well and described as follows:

He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child
In this simple poem, God is straightforwardly loving and kind, creating gentle creatures in his image. This is an innocent world where there is nothing to fear.
In contrast, in "The Tyger," the narrator asks more sophisticated questions about the nature of God. In this poem, the speaker again raises the question of creation, asking who made the fearsome and beautiful tiger:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Here, however, the issues are more complex because the tiger is a "dread" beast, a predator. What kind of God would create such a predatory creature? This God is presented as more terrifying and far less comforting than the God who created the gentle lamb. The speaker questions whether the same God could have made both lamb and tiger:
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
The tiger described in the poem points to a God who has created an animal that, although it may be beautiful, is terrifying and dangerous. How, the poem asks, do we reconcile a loving and merciful God with one who would unleash such a terrible creature on the earth? These are questions that a song of "experience" raises—without being able to provide the answers.
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Compare and contrast William Blake's poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger."

Blake's poem, "The Lamb", represents a spiritual exploration of innocence and purity.  The description of the lamb indicates as much with imagery that reflects a sense of softness and child-like authenticity.  The first word of "little" helps to create this mood throughout the poem with ideas such as "softest clothing woolly  bright," "tender voice," "vales rejoicing" (symbolizing a universality regaling in the lamb's song of innocence and purity), and the description of the lamb being "meek and mild."  With the shared rejoicing of the speaker in the closing lines, the poem illuminates the innocent and pure condition of the lamb, of goodness and unity in the world.

The countervailing force to this is the poem of "The Tyger."  Blake continues the theme of perfect creation, although in this setting, it is a representation of the force of death, an "anti- lamb" expression of being in the world.  Blake does not judge the tyger as a force that has to be obliterated, but rather is using the subject to explore the presence of evil in the world.  Whereas the lamb is a song of innocence, the tyger is a song of experience, the opposing force to the lamb.  Blake's description of the tyger is one fraught with the expression of this opposing force.  The "fearful symmetry" reflects a much different impression than that of the lamb.  The questioning of how one who created the lamb could "seize the fire" that gave birth to the tyger is brought out with the "twisting of the sinews of thy heart" as well as the "dread hand" and "dread feet."  This force is not one to be derided or dismissed, for it is present in the world:  "Did he who made the lamb make thee?"  The question that Blake seems to be posing with both poems is how the presence of innocence and unity can be countered with the presence of destruction and fragmentation.  Blake is exploring how the life force that is praised and exalted in the lamb can be challenged by the powers of the tyger.  Blake poises the condition of humanity somewhere in between both of these competing notions of the good.

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Compare and contrast the poems The Lamb and The Tyger by William Blake

Blake's "The Lamb" and "The Tyger" are known as companion poems, with the first appearing in Blake's Songs of Innocence and the second appearing in Songs of Experience

The speaker of "The Lamb" is a child.  He is innocent and naive.  He perceives the lamb as a reflection of the creator.  The diction, or word choice, demonstrates the speaker's worldview:  delight, bright, tender, rejoice, mild.

"The Tyger" presents an alternative perspective.  This speaker is experienced.  He presents another side of creation and the creator.  The poem presents a similar situation--the creation of nature--from an opposite viewpoint.  The diction reveals this:  fearful, Burnt, dare, seize, "twist the sinews," dread, hammer, chain, furnace, "deadly terror clasp." 

Together, the poems present two sides of the same creator.  The tiger is a killer, but he is not evil in the traditional sense--he is just another side of creation, as well as another side of the creator. 

"The Tyger" is also more complex, reflecting the point of view.  Allusions and metaphors are abundant, for instance.

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Compare the poems "The Lamb" and "The Tiger" by William Blake, and give information about their context.

The poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger" are companion pieces, one from Blake's volume Songs of Innocence and the other from Songs of Experience. Both use an animal to explore the nature of God.

The lamb in the "The Lamb" represents the world of innocence before the biblical Fall of humankind. The lamb in the poem is both a literal lamb, a creature "wooly bright" and also Jesus Christ, the deity. Jesus is "meek and mild" and like a child. He represents a world of love and gentle, natural beauty, the kind of place where a child is nurtured and safe.

The tyger, in contrast, represents the world of experience after the Fall, a world of aggression and predation in which the tyger is a symbol of the world's "fearful" forces. Rather than gentle like the lamb, the tiger is "burning."

Both poems question who made the animal in question. The speaker of "The Lamb" asks the lamb:

Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
The speaker of "The Tyger" asks:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
In the world before the Fall, the God who made the lamb is mild and good, and the speaker easily identifies God with Jesus. However, in the more complicated world after the Fall, it seems a fearful God, who is like a powerful blacksmith at his anvil, created the tyger, raising questions:
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
Put together, the two poems create the paradox that Blake's speaker states in "The Tyger:" "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" How is it that God could make the world so gentle and so predatory at once?
Blake published Songs of Innocence in 1789, a significant year as it ushered in the French Revolution. Blake, a radical, like many other Romantic poets, had high hopes for the revolution. By 1793, the year Songs of Experience was published, the revolution had turned into a bloodbath, dashing many idealistic dreams as experience turned out to be far harsher than expectation. In Songs of Experience, Blake questions the world of cruelty he sees all around him, tying abuses to powerful institutions such as the aristocracy, organized religion, and the military.
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