William Blake was an 18th-century poet, painter, and printmaker whose works primarily dealt with the divide and merge between reality and the spiritual world. He would often contrast themes of innocence with that of experience, thereby insinuating the role of good and evil throughout a person’s life and soul. These topics were reflective of the overall literary trend of the Romantic Movement, during which Blake wrote most of his work. The era was deeply concerned with conversations regarding spirituality, expressiveness, and nature. The Lamb is a 1789 poem in a collection titled Songs of Innocence and a direct counterpart to his 1794 poem, The Tyger. While the poems vary in structure, pacing, and even length, they share thematic, tonal, imagery, and symbolic elements that unite them.
Both poems, like much of Blake’s work, are concerned with Christianity, God, and the nature of good and evil. The united focus of both poems emphasizes the question of what the purpose of both the tiger and the Lamb is, as one eats the other. Blake refers to the tiger as a frightening creature, and Blake asks who could create its ‘fearful symmetry’ (line 4). Essentially, the author questions whether or not the entity that created the terrifying and negatively framed tiger could be the same one that created the innocent and good Lamb.
The poems vary in tone in a significant manner. The Tyger is substantially darker, with allusions to night, distant deeps, and dread (Blake, lines 2-11). Overall, the poem frequently asks questions, as if the narrator cannot grasp the reality of the tiger’s creation. On the other hand, The Lamb only possesses four questions throughout the entire poem, as if the narrator is simply amusing the subject of the poem and not interrogating it. Similarly, the work is filled with repetition and references to brightness, tenderness, and light (Blake, lines 6-8). While the repetition in The Lamb is immediate, as if lyrical, in The Tyger, it is often separated by other phrases, creating a sense of division. The tonal changes between the poems are likely what makes their contrast so prominent but also makes them perfectly complementary.
Imagery is a significant component within both poems as it allows the reader to unify both poems into one contrast-full image. Darkness and brightness and softness and sharpness are the primary concepts instilled by the imagery. The Tyger makes reference to a number of dangerous elements in its narrative, such as burning fire, chains, furnaces, anvils, clasps, spears, and tears. The Lamb provides a completely different image with depictions of mead, clothing of delight, wool, a tender voice, meekness, mildness, and childhood. The author also creates the illusion of a more personal encounter with the Lamb by frequently stating ‘I’ or ‘we,’ while such language is largely absent from The Tyger.
Animal symbolism within both poems is largely related to themes of Christianity. Jesus Christ, with whom Blake associates a number of positive qualities, is often referred to as the Lamb of God. Blake not only refers to Christ through the symbolism of the Lamb but to all humanity and its inherent good as creations of God. The tiger symbolizes the counterpart to the Lamb and, as such, the cruelty and evilness of the world.
Blake uses this symbolism to question the creation of both the Lamb and the tiger, good and evil, in the same world. This thesis is supported by the shifts in tone throughout both poems and the imagery provided that compare innocence and experience, a prevalent theme in most of Blake’s work. The author introduces the duality of his religion, the spiritual world, and reality through contrasting values and images. In this way, the poems are vastly different but reliant on each other to present an influential and important narrative.
Blake, William. “The Lamb.” Songs of Innocence, Chump Change, 1789, p. 15.
Blake, William. “The Tyger.” Songs of Experience, Chump Change, 1794, p. 81.