How does Blake contrast the human soul in "The Lamb" and "The Tyger"?

Expert Answers

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

Blake's complex poetry, with its frequent emphasis upon spirituality, imagination, and mysticism, is subject to much analysis and interpretation. As companion pieces, "The Lamb" and "The Tyger" perhaps illustrate contrasting views of the soul, but they can also be interpreted as contrasting views of human imagination and intelligence in relation to secular and spiritual experience. In either interpretation, the common thread is contrast.

"The Lamb" is one of Blake's Songs of Innocence. It is narrated by a child who, in his innocence, beholds the gentle beauty of a lamb. The lamb of "tender voice" is covered with "[s]oftest clothing, woolly, bright." Peace pervades the poem, as the lamb feeds "by the stream and o'er the mead." The child knows who made the lamb: the God who "calls Himself a Lamb." The child's God is "meek and mild," a loving God who creates beauty, tenderness, and peace.

In contrast, the narrator of "The Tyger" is not a child. His is the voice of experience and his view of the tiger is darker and far more complex. Unlike "The Lamb," the language in this poem is more sophisticated, its imagery more complicated, and its theme clouded with uncertainty. The tiger is not soft, tender, or beautiful; it is fearsome. Fire burns in its eyes, and the sinews of its heart are "twisted." Unlike the child narrator in "The Lamb," the narrator in "The Tyger" does not know who made this hard and dangerous creature. He questions, "Did he who made the lamb make thee?

This question reflects the soul's attempt, perhaps, to understand the very nature of God: loving or fearsome or both? The contrast in the two poems may suggest two parts of the human soul, but it may also express two stages of spiritual growth, from innocence to experience. As we move through the world, do we become more like the tiger and less like the lamb as our innocence is corrupted? As our intelligence and spiritual awareness grow, do we realize that the nature of God is beyond our understanding?

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial