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A Theme of Religion in The Tyger and The Lamb by William Blake

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Religion has always been global, in the sense that religious communities and traditions have maintained permeable boundaries. Being a visionary, Blake had his own way of viewing religion. Standing in the heart of Songs of Experience, The Tyger explores the loss of innocence that the ‘Lamb’ personifies. It symbolizes the dreadful and dark forces in the world just as The Lamb for gentleness, vulnerability and innocence. The comparison of the two pieces creates a complex world-view that acknowledges the existence of both good and evil in the world of religion, questioning its origin and how they might be interrelated. When compared, the poems explore how the presence of innocence can be challenged by experience and the powers of evil. Blake explores this relationship through the use of diction, characterisation and structure.

Blake utilises contrasting diction in the two poems in order to place emphasis on the disparity in religion. In The Lamb, the semantic field of naivety is used which is evident through the adjectives “mild”, “meek” and “tender”. The adjective “meek” denotes to be gentle, weak or easily dominated which highlight the vulnerability of innocence. However, in relation to religion, it could be being mindful of and obedient to God’s plan for the world. The child’s innocence can be manifested through Blake’s utilisation of simple, childlike diction which does not exceed more than 2 syllables which also serves as a reflection of God – simple, pure and transparent. The idea is further accentuated by the use of archaic language through “thee”, “thou” and “dost” which was a common way to speak to a child. Despite the diction being comforting and clear, it leaves the reader to be uneasy as it is known that this is not the totality of what the world has to offer. Contrastingly, in The Tyger, there is a use of the semantic field connoting the existence of evil which can be seen through the employment of the words “deadly”, “terror” and “fearful”. This poses a question as to why God, who made the gentle lamb, would also create such a dangerous creature such as the ‘Tyger’.

Additionally, the use of synecdoche of the human body is also interesting as it humanises evil. When coupled with the semantic field of industrialisation, exemplified through “hammer” and “furnace”, it could also imply Blake’s belief of the Industrial Revolution to be the ‘evil’ as it has taken over our society, taking away our innocence and replacing it with the material changes. This idea is further explored through the personification of the stars through the quote, “stars threw down their spears”. The ‘stars’ could represent rebel angels. Therefore, it can be interpreted that the rebel angels in Heaven surrendered to the power of God are represented by the ‘Tyger’ in this poem and that they wept with humiliation and threw their spears when God proceeded to create the earth and its inhabitants. This shows the contrast between the two poems as even nature could go against its natural state of obedience. In addition, the refrain employed in the first and last stanza is also noteworthy as “could” is replaced with “dare”. A low modality verb is being replaced with a verb that provokes a challenge which mirrors the transition from innocence to experience as the glass of innocence is broken and exposed to the reality of the world. In the context of religion, it could represent how religion is no longer a source of life and liberation but an agent of social control.

The characterisation of the ‘Lamb’ and ‘Tyger’ is included in order to present the liminality in religion. The animals are both tools of nature in which they are God’s creations. The ‘Lamb’ is a religious figure, an expression of God that represents innocence, youth, and the pleasant aspect of nature. Whereas the ‘Tyger’ represents the more powerful, fearful part of nature emphasising moral decay. There is certain propinquity with both animals due to them both having the same creator. Yet, it is questioned how a God thought to be benevolent could create such a ferocious creature as it carries connotations of evil. Being closely linked to fire, this could be an allusion of Prometheus, who tricked the gods, by stealing fire and giving it to humanity. Prometheus was not rewarded for his ingenuity; instead, he was condemned to eternal punishment. Much like Prometheus, the ‘Tyger’ is condemned in a sense that it will constantly be viewed as the evil aspect in religion. Creating further links with religion, the two poems could perhaps be construed as to represent both sides of the Bible – The New Testament and The Old Testament. The ‘Lamb’ may be a reference to Jesus, therefore, the poem is representative of the New Testament which portrays the Christian God to be benevolent. Consequently, The Tyger would be representative of the Old Testament in which God is greedy, vain and merciless. This draws links to Blake’s views on religion as he rejected the Old Testament stereotype of God as being vengeful. He felt people used this idea to justify their own revenge and desire for land and power. An alternate view would be that the two animals could be representing Blake’s “two contrary states of the human soul” as the first part sets out an imaginative vision of the state of innocence. The second shows how life changes, corrupts and that experience is inevitable; a necessary stage which is fundamental in the cycle of life.

In addition, Blake’s employment of varying sentence structure and tone acts as the embodiment of the polarity of his views in religion. The difference is shown by the innocent child speaker in ‘The Lamb’ and the matured speaker in ‘The Tyger’ in which contrasting techniques are used to juxtapose the poems. Examples are the simple sentence structure used in ‘The Lamb’ and the more interrogative rhetorical questions used in ‘The Tyger’; the ingenuous diction and the sophisticated diction; and the literal assurance of the child that God is the Creator contrasted by the lack of an answer for a creator. The effect on the reader would be that the transition from innocence to experience would be inevitable and in the context of religion, most readers would find solace in the ‘Lamb’ in comparison to the ‘Tyger’. In The Lamb, there is a simplicity in how the child speaks. The child is asking if it knows how it came to be made: “Little Lamb, who made thee? / Dost thou know who made thee?”. The use of apostrophe accentuates the callow tone of the child since he/she seems to feel no embarrassment in talking to an animal or that there is something slightly ridiculous in speaking to one as perhaps an older person might feel. In the first 2 stanzas, repetition is used which creates a melodic rhythm which can be directly contrasted to the sophisticated rhetorical questions in The Tyger. Apostrophe in the latter poem is employed in a more complex manner which results in an introspective tone as if the speaker is speaking to himself rather than an actual being. The effect of this would be that the innocence prevalent in our world is often overlooked and dominated as we are distracted by the materialistic world around us that destroys the innocence which is then churned into experience. The speaker seems to view the ‘Tyger’ as an entity to be feared through the metaphor of “burnt the fire of thine eyes”. The connection or disconnection between religion and humans can be seen through the heavy use of personal pronouns in The Lamb such as “he”, “I” and “thou” is contrasted with the lack of pronouns in The Tyger which symbolises the motif of the ‘Other’ in the context of religion. It is conventional to seek comfort with the ‘Lamb’ and isolate the ‘Tyger’ as predatory. This barrier evident in The Tyger is accentuated through the challenging and interrogative tone as opposed to the soft, assonant tone in The Lamb. The contrast can be seen when the two poems ask the same question of the creator, yet both of them have different approaches. The quote “Little Lamb who made thee/ Dost thou know who made thee’,’ is used while The Tyger includes “What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”. The dominating tone draws parallels to formalised religion that Blake rejects as what should have been a message of love had become one of cruelty. To deduce, the liminality between a credulous and matured voice mirrors Blake’s transition in his anthologies between Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

In conclusion, the two poems are antithetical to one another in which they encapsulate Blake’s ‘two contrary states of the human soul’. They are both religious allegories and when combined, reflect religion as a global issue resembling the tree in ‘The Blossom’ – open to all whether good or evil.

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A Theme Of Religion In The Tyger And The Lamb By William Blake. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from
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