William Blake was not respected in his era for his work, but to this day, we respect his work as having been some of the most influential and society-changing ever. He was perhaps the first ever artist to publicly think out of the box at a time when it was risky to do so, and was the first poet of the romantic period. His thoughts were unlike anything previously published- they included advanced psychology that is considered to this day to be relevant.
His opinions on religion and our universe were new and socially challenging which was why his works were never accepted during his lifetime. To fully understand and appreciate Blake’s work, we must consider the social environment he lived in. It was a period when agriculture and farming was becoming city and stone. Suburbs and cities were being created and the general commercialisation of things around him troubled him greatly.
With these changes, attitudes changed and became a lot more financially orientated and complicated. He despaired at what he thought was a becoming a “ruined world” and he turned to art for thought and understanding.People were losing their moral values and Blake’s world became sinister and dark. Also, political revolution internationally was occurring as the French and American revolutions happened during his lifetime.
He lived in a learning world and he was confused and challenged by the world around him. Blake wrote a compilation of art called “Songs of experience” in 1794. Two of the poems in this collection were “The Tiger” and “The Lamb”. These were both written with the intention of being linked and studied as two different poems to compare and contrast.
Blake is said to have believed that in order to reach a higher level of conscience, one needs to have experienced a state of innocence, but also one must experience the darker more sinister aspects of life. The poems according to him, were “two contrary states of the soul”, one, purer more innocent and the other darker and more sinister. They are both on creation from different perspectives. In other words, they are on the same thing- creation from two different perspectives, one, the innocent, pure state of being and the second, darker.
However, neither of these perspectives is worse; these two “stages of experience” were vital in becoming more mentally intelligent and wise. Now, looking at these two poems individually, we can see exactly what he meant. Firstly “The Lamb”; it is important that we notice that even though the language used in these poems may be simple and perhaps even similar to a child’s nursery rhyme, the content and perception raised in them was completely revolutionary in terms of how we perceived the human mind and psychology and, indeed, creation itself.The Lamb does not have a third-person narrator; it is written in the second person as if the subject were conversing with the lamb.
We can assume that this poem is most likely written with Blake being the person questioning the animal, as he usually used an alter ego or other character in his writing. Perhaps before actually analysing the poem we should familiarise ourselves with Blake’s ideas and symbolism. To do this, we must forget any modern day psychology or ideas that we take for granted today. Blake was a Christian but some of his views, especially on creation, differed from the normal.
This was especially true for his views of human creation. The Bible gives Genesis, the first book of the Bible to be the origin of creation. In Blake’s day, this was believed to actually have happened. Now, however, scientists tell us that a huge explosion of hydrogen, the “big bang” created the universe, as we know it.
His views somewhat overlapped with another religion, Gnosticism. This religion has run alongside the Catholicism for centuries. Basically, the universe was created by a “cosmic catastrophe”.God then made all sprits, hand-making physical bodies for animals and humans.
We should live on earth keeping our moral values and then eventually, an apocalypse would occur whereby the “universe will be restored”. He made visual artistic visualisations many times of this event. In his day, he felt that the world was a “fine and wonderful” place. He had a passion for nature and often observed animals and drew them.
He wrote many poems on nature during his lifetime. Here, we see him using animals to try and explain his theory on creation.Blake was many things, an artist, a visionary, and a mystic. Here we see him offer his views on creation and judgment.
At that time, the Catholic Church was not the perfectly holy institution that we consider it to be. There was a lot of child labour and financial corruption amongst its leaders. This truly concerned Blake. He was a very humane and morally guided man who was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs and ideas.
He once said “I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s”. He was rather anarchic and had a strong tear-away attitude also however.This can be seen in his beliefs of Christianity especially. Blake believed that God, the father, was a strong, omnipotent almost tyrannical figure.
He said that the son, Jesus Christ, the son was the creator of the entire world. The poem is taken from “Songs of Innocence”. Innocence and experience were two states of the soul, the innocent and the dark. The second poem, “The Tiger” is taken from “Songs of experience” which describes the darker side of life and situations that are less easy.
The poem begins with some rhetorical questions to the Lamb such as “who made thee? which questions the lamb as to whether it knows who his creator was. The lamb in the first line is addressed with a capital letter at the beginning of its name, “Little Lamb”, which suggests that there is some sort of biblical link. The setting is somewhat like a heavenly, typical setting from the Bible, and seems to be utopia. The Lamb is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
He has been sent down by God, the father. The perfection and good qualities described in the poem are all tributes and examples of God’s power and perfection.Blake wrote this poem to describe how perfect, pure and innocent the Lamb of God was, and, in general, all of creation too. The Tiger, however, is entirely different; it is much darker.
God regularly compared the work of creation to the work of an artist or a blacksmith. There are references to both crafts in this poem. There are so many theories on how Blake’s work should be understood; it is hard to find an actual way to value it. Some say that the tiger is a symbol of nature; some say that it is a symbol of worldly life and mortality, the “fearful symmetry” being life after death.
Some say that the tiger is Jesus Christ and that the majestic strength is a symbol of His. Another alternative is that the tiger represents man. In Blake’s day, man was becoming arrogant and self-righteous, often abusing each other, and the tiger is the perfect example of an animal that is powerful and arrogant. Many say that the tiger is a symbol of evil, or Satan.
I can see how all of these might be correct, but after having researched these speculations, I can understand how the symbolism of the Tiger could be taken as being Jesus Christ.They both describe very different features, the positive and the more serious, powerful one. The poem itself describes a tiger prowling in the forest, and the writer describing how awesome the tiger is and how impressive its creation and creator must have been. There is a direct reference to “The Lamb, “Did he who make the lamb make thee? ” These poems are about two animals that are completely different physically and in reputation.
The poem has a similar structure to “The Lamb”, there are many rhetorical questions such as “Did He smile his work to see? Following Blake’s theory, whereby Jesus is the creator and God the father is the Ruler, it could be that “The Lamb” is about the creation of the pure and innocent Jesus Christ compared to the dark and arrogant “The Tiger” who is symbolic for mankind. God created the Lamb, Jesus, and then we were created and became conceited and self-obsessed, mistreating others and losing its values. The complexities of such simple poetry are surprising. There are many ways to consider his poetry.
In this essay, I have tried to consider the world Blake lived in, the type of man he was, the type of beliefs he kept and what he could have mean to through his poetry. His poems are so knotted with symbolism and images that it is hard to emerge from exploring his work with a clear conclusion. Even by a small amount of research, it is clear that many people have understood his words in different ways. The poems are beautifully written, with incredible imagery created using perfectly effective words and similes and metaphors.
They raise many more questions than they answer, but inspire us to ask ourselves questions and consider creation in a different way. His work began the Romantic Movement then, although it did not receive acclaim then. Now, it is recognised as being striking and very relevant even today. Blake was a prophet and used his mind in a way few people previously had, and in producing this poems, he has changed the way many people think about creation, which is, ultimately, what every poet’s aim is.