Use of Symbolism in The Tyger and The Lamb by William Blake : William Blake (1757-1827) was not a lyrical poet but a great visionary. As a visionary, he always for looks for things beyond what is immediate and palpable. His search for the glories and the terrors of the world of spirit is innate, and unlike Wordsworth who discovers pantheistic entity that is both immanent in and transcendent from the universe, manifest in the gracious spirit of nature, Blake feels with the eye of one who cannot help dreaming dreams and seeing visions.
Symbol is a mode of expression in which a writer depicts indirectly through the medium of another object. But symbol is not a mere substitution of one object for another. There is much more to it. Symbolism is the art of evoking an object little by little to reveal a mood or emotion or some mysterious region of human psyche The poetry as well as the whole art of William Blake is abundant with symbols. There is hardly any poem in the “Songs of Innocence and Experience” which does not possess symbols. Blake’s famous symbols are children, flowers and seasons to symbolize innocence. Although regarded by some as a collection of poems for children, the Songs can actually be read as an exploration of human spiritual growth as well as a representation of what Blake himself called “the two contrary states of the human soul”. The antithesis of innocence and experience is visible in the richness of symbols present in this ensemble of poems. Religious figures, animals, tales of light and darkness oppose each other. The positive outlook of Innocence emerges in contrast to the gloomy world of the experienced adult in Experience. One of Blake’s most famous dual symbols and the one most closely linked with his reflections on the French Revolution is the Lamb/Tiger.
Blake uses a plethora of symbols in The Lamb and The Tyger. The poetical contents of The Songs of Innocence and The Songs of Experience appeared in two volumes as The Songs of Innocence in 1789 followed by The Songs of Experience issued five years later. Soon Blake merged the two volumes together in 1794, giving it the subtitle “Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.” Let alone the symbolism in the poems, Blame’s enterprise of combination of the two volumes into a single a single one has deeply symbolical value, as the human soul has two contrary divisions – innocence and experience. The child represents innocence, while experience is represented by the adult who acquires worldliness ‘through endless imitation.’ As a child grows into a adult man, he distances himself from God which is the source of innocence. As long as a human being remains a child, he lives in close contact with God, and lives in joy. The darker aspects of life begin to occupy the human mind, as he grows into manhood, and the freedom a child enjoys vanishes, leaving his mind in afflictions. Wordsworth in his Immortality Ode dwells on this same object. While a six years’ boy of a pigmy size bears reflections of the innocence, the grown-up man is lost in complexities of life.
Suggested Reading :Reflection of Time and Society in William Blake’s Poems
The Lamb Which is the third poem of The songs of Innocence symbolizes the innocent nature of a child. As its eyes open up, it wonders at the world, but its wonder is created not by the tiger but by the lamb. As a child, it feels affinity with everything innocent, and it feels elated at the sight of the green woods, the dimpling stream, the air, the green hills, the green meadows , the grasshopper, the painted birds all laughing. The child discovers cheerfulness not only in the natural objects, but also enjoys Mary, Susan and Emily with their sweet mouths singing ‘Ha, Ha, He ! ’ (Poem No: 7) Thus the Blake points out the whole child word as embodiment of joy. More significant is the poem Infant Joy (Poem No: 3) where the child of two days pronounces :
‘ I happy am,
Joy is my name.’
The child here is Christ or God Himself blessing the accursed adult : “Sweet Joy befall thee!”
The first stanza of the poem expresses the delight of the child as it sees the innocent creature. The description is dull or sterile; it is an expression of juvenile wonder. Hiss wonder is expressed in the shape of questions: Little Lamb, who made thee? The next line expresses wonder with the natural curiosity of a child to know about its creator. So from its lips comes the question: Do thou know who made thee? The very word ’know’ is potently significant. The child being innocent does not ‘know’ about its creator as it lives still in the Paradise. Knowledge led to the fall of man, and so the child asks the lamb to learn if has any knowledge about its creator. The stanza basically symbolises the innocence of the child manifest in its wonder. The child wonders about its origin, its grazing on the meadow skirted by a stream, the delightful and soft clothing and its tender voice. . Thus the lamb becomes a part of the child’s world that wonders the beauty of mountainous valley – its meadow, its pasture, its rolling stream and the food that it offers the innocent creature.
The second stanza reflects upon the child’s knowledge of the lamb’s father. As in the first stanza, the stanza too begins with two lines, the first line being repeated in the second.
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:
The child’s knowledge is not like the knowledge of Adam, representative of an adult man. The child by its very intuition, not from his knowledge of the Bible, knows that He became a little child, born in Bethlehem in Jerusalem. This knowledge in him is inborn, not acquired, and the child delightfully pronounces that both it and the lamb are known by His name. Thus God, Christ, Lamb and the Child are bonded together by the string of innocence. Practically, a child is characterized by the much of the innocence of God, and so it blesses the innocent creature spontaneously. Here the child acquires another characteristic of God: omniscience and graciousness. Only those that are pure in heart enjoy the blessings of God, and become entitled to eternal bliss. Thus in the second stanza, Blake uses Lamb as the symbol of God, the omniscient and yet kind and innocent.
If The Lamb of The Songs of Innocence be the acclamation of the innocence that a child embodies, The Tyger expresses the adult experience that afflicts his soul. The Tiger symbolises wrath and fierceness, as the lamb symbolises innocence, and in order to redeem man the fierceness of spirit is necessary. The innocent that is lost to man cannot be earned back by a weak endeavour; vigorous spiritual struggle is necessary to gain back freedom. This spiritual struggle can be performed only by the tigrine vigour coupled with the wrath that should be directed to emerge out of the forests of the dark night. Ordinarily, the lamb’s innocence will charm a person, but the fierceness of the tiger will appal him. The tiger of Blake symbolises this fierce spirit that must invigorate man in his fight against the mighty evil that sits tightly on his soul.
Blake’s spelling of Tyger is worth noting for it seems to emphasize the symbolic quality of the animal. The tiger symbolizes the fierce forces in the soul which are needed to break the bonds of experience. To some the tiger with its fearful symmetry stands for the pervasive evil; in the world of others, the tiger symbolizes an awful beauty in creation and for some others, the tiger is a symbol of praise for the creation of the universe. The forest of night represents ignorance, repression and superstition. To some, the forest is the world of Experience :
“Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night”
The word fire of this line Burnt the fire of thine eyes to some is a symbol of wrath. Further the stars in when the stars threw down their spears symbolize the material power. The stars also suggest the angels. The lamb and the tiger are symbols for two different states of the human soul. When the lamb is destroyed by experience, the tiger is needed to restore the world.
The Tyger is a classic poem in its abundant use of imagery. The images used in the opening lines of the poem have vivid visual effects. The tiger lurking in the darkness is a stupendous creation. In the alliterative line a sound imagery has also been created. The metallic, clanging imagery has been used in mid-sentences like what the hammer? what the chain? There is a power in the phrase fearful symmetry.
The symbolism in the poem “The Tiger” it presents another face of Romanticism, the wild, uninhibited view of nature and of God. Blake describes the tiger as a fearful, burning, and deadly. In Back in Henry Crabb Robinson wrote about The Tyger,” it symbolizes the dreadful forces in the world just as “The Lamb” symbolized gentleness, vulnerability and innocence in the circle of Innocence. “William Blake takes the opposite position he did in “The Lamb.” In “The Tyger,” Blake shows the God has created a sort of evil creature in the tiger. Blake compares God to a blacksmith when he made the tiger. He does this by using lines like “What the hammer,” “What the chain,” “In what furnace was thy brain,” What the anvil”. Hilton has highlighted that just as the lamb and the tiger have one common creator. Blake really put the rhetorical question in his poem ‘The Tyger’ with the clear presupposition of the answer to be in the positive. ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger’ are complimentary and explaining the two contrary states of human soul, and analyzing the lines and pictures together in the context of the Bible, no better solution can be rendered for understanding these two poems, and through that reach to the core of the mystery of God’s creation.
William Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper” (page 946) embraces symbolism and irony in order to convey the poem’s theme. The poem focuses on lives of chimney sweepers; it implies the boys work long, laborious hours in poor conditions, but are promised just, glorious conditions in the afterlife. Tom Dacre’s hair serves as a conventional symbol; his head is described as “curled like a lamb’s back.” The lamb is typically associated with innocence and purity; the shaving of his head seems to symbolize the loss of these things due to the hard labor of chimney sweeping.
Tom’s dream is supposed to be a glimpse into the afterlife of the chimney sweepers; the coffins of black are a conventional symbol for death, and the black ties back to chimney soot. It’s very possible the phrase was chosen because a chimney, from the inside, is dark and constricting, much as a coffin is. The poem itself has a symbolic meaning: The chimney sweepers symbolize life and its toils, while the soot symbolizes sin. This is why the poem emphasizes black and soot against white and cleanliness (“in soot I sleep”, “soot cannot spoil your white hair”, “coffins of black”, “bright key”, “shine in the sun”, “naked and white”, “rose in the dark”). Blake uses the conventional symbolism of white to stand for heavenly purity. It seems that the Angel in the poem is cosmic irony; though the afterlife is supposed to be joyful, that doesn’t improve the sweepers’ current lives in any physical way.
It is established that Blake is a highly symbolic poet. His use of symbolism is unique and cinematic. It paints a lively and pulsating picture of dynamic life before us. He has depicted nature and human nature; animals and plants as simple but profound symbols of powerful forces. What is different in Blake is that he is not modeling after any symbols but his own. His handling of symbols is markedly different from that of the French symbolists. His symbols are not mechanical or inflexible. He has used archetypal symbolism in his poetry. In short, symbolism is the main trait of William Blake as a poet and this has been well crystallized in his legendary work, “The Songs of Innocence and Experience”.
William Blake is one of the greatest symbolist poets of the world. In his poems Blake does not present ordinary events common men see and understand them; rather describes spiritual events which have to be portrayed symbolically to render them intelligible. Blake is unique because of his ability to communicate beyond immediate context and space. Actually it is impossible to go through his poems without considering the symbolic significance and finally we observe that while presenting symbols from various sources in writing plenty of images are created.
It is to be noted here that Blake’s symbolism, though strongly meaningful, is nothing abstruse or incoherent, like Coleridge’s in Christabel or Kubla Khan, nor is this subtly mystical like Wordsworth’s as in Tintern Abbey or Immortality Ode. This is all clear, compact, deeply impressive and thoroughly coherent. Blake is plainly childlike, yet mystically suggestive and distinctly convincing and meaningful.