William Blake’s Songs of Innocence And Experience

William Blake deals with the themes of innocence and experience in his poems – “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” with his signature use of religious symbolism. His poems convey the philosophical questions regarding good and evil and how one must exist with the other. This is a short analysis of the poetic techniques such as rhyme and rhythm that he used.

The “Songs of Innocence and Experience” by William Blake contain companion poems by which each can shed light on the other. “The Lamb”, a “Song of Innocence”, when compared with “The Tyger”, a “Song of Experience”, demonstrates the dramatic change in the poet’s view of the relationship between the meaning of life and the dominant theological beliefs of the time. They were written in the context of the late 1700’s, when Europe was on the brink of industrial, social, political and scientific change. Reflecting these upheavals is the transformation of Blake’s simple child-like belief in the inherent goodness of the world to a perception where society was a darker, more malevolent place.

“The Lamb” was written when Blake had held a highly idealistic perception of life, drawn from the dominant religious iconography of the time. The persona of the poem is that of a child whose voice resonates with innocence as he asks – “Little Lamb, who made thee?” This child-like simplicity and symbolic reference to the wonder of creation reveal Blake’s positive view of a loving and benevolent deity. Enhancing these qualities is the successive repetition of the rhetorical questions posed by the child to the lamb. The persona’s own answers – “Gave thee life and bid thee feed… gave thee such a tender voice” – show God’s bountiful gifts bestowed on this one creature.

The lamb also reflects Jesus Christ, the Son of God in Christianity – “He is called by thy name… He is meek and he is mild.” The Christian message purports that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son as a sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of all mankind. This emphasis on God’s great love and compassion is connoted by the tender, lyrical flow of the poem. To the child, the world is a beautiful place of innocence and love. Such beliefs are concrete as a child’s mind has not developed the experience or the capacity to question the ostensible goodness of the world.

If “The Lamb” represents the ideal, then “The Tyger” by contrast signifies reality. Where the tone in the former is light, loose and airy, the latter is darker, heavier and more brooding. Their poetic structures and rhyme schemes can also be compared. The melodic pattern of “The Lamb” gives it a nursery rhyme impression. “The Tyger” is more tightly constrained into quatrains and within these, rhyming couplets. This rhythmic movement reflects the slow and supple motions of the wild beast. It is this fascination, yet dread of evil that Blake is exploring – “What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

By contrasting the Tyger, symbolic of Satan and the Lamb, symbolic of Jesus, light is shed on the conflicting human beliefs on good and evil. As propounded by the religious doctrine of the institutionalized Church, Satan is the definition of pure evil. He, as a Tyger, is a great predator, the devourer of men’s souls. He is to be shunned and feared. Yet, the poet subverts the Church’s teaching by revealing a dark awe at his magnificent existence – “And what shoulder and what art…?”

The second to fourth stanzas dwell on the existence of Satan, once the arch-angel, Lucifer, now a fallen star. “On what wings dare he aspire?” refer to the heights to which Lucifer’s ambitions had soared, to the extent of desiring godhood and supplanting God himself. There follows a long list of rhetorical questions which, in contrast to “The Lamb”, are not answered. Rather, they serve to generate more questions on the philosophical truths of good and evil.

Blake also refers to the celestial war between God and Lucifer – “When the stars threw down their spears”, ending that stanza with – “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” This draws the reader to question the ability of an all-powerful God to create the innocent and pure Lamb, but yet at the same time, to mold the terrible and dark image of the Tyger. God, the epitome of goodness has a flaw in His creation and this flaw was the element that could have the capacity to rise up and challenge His power. It is suggested that for good to exist, evil is also essential in God’s creation, whether in the physical or spiritual realm.

Each poem needs the other to enlighten the reader to the perceptions held by Blake on the subject of the never-ending battle between God and Satan, good and evil, the Lamb and the Tyger. “The Lamb” demonstrates Blake’s innocent belief that pure goodness can be achieved as God has offered mankind salvation and hope. However, in “The Tyger”, Blake’s idealistic attitude has changed. In this poem, he does not demonstrate any hate or repulsion of evil. Instead, he reveals his simultaneous horror and fascination of it. Good cannot exist without evil as evil cannot without good. Such ideas outline the complex nature of God’s creation and man’s significance within it.

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