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“The Tiger” and “The Lamb” Poems by William Blake Essay

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Updated: Oct 8th, 2021

Introduction

The poems “The Tiger” and ‘The Lambdiscuss the meaning of human existence and freedom, liberty and relations with the world around us. In both poems, Blake speaks about human life and attitude towards freedom, unique understanding of the world and a human. Seeing things in a romantic framework, Blake conceives of people as beings who must re-enact tradition. The poems rehearse its rituals with an insistence which invites us to see the characters as protagonists in Blake’s private concern for vocation and allegiance. In both poems, “the Tiger” and “the Lamb” Blake uses similar stylistic devices but conveys different meaning and themes.

Analysis

The “Lamb” is based on a unique speaker’s tone: a child. In this poem, the narrative does offer one rural child-character who is shown to be hurt and unfulfilled due to the absence of a helping hand: “Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? (Blake 49). Rhetorical but simple questions add emotional tension and underline a childlike nature of the speaker. The character has exemplified the “moral” by enacting a cautionary tale which “shows” the danger unleashed when people deny close relations. Having finished with the character the narrative can then and for the first time affords it some sympathy. Elsewhere the characterization bristles with antagonism toward those who reject the hierarchy. Blake writes: “He is called by thy name, / For He calls Himself a Lamb” (Blake). The symbol of Lamb associates with a child and softness.

“The Tiger” is told from an adult point of view. The tone of the poem is serious and deductive. Even the name, “the Tiger” with its suggestion of a predestined and rather ridiculous and caricatured villainy, indicates a misplaced belligerence. Part of the character’s contrary nature is a quest for vengeance which leads her to assume the male role or mask of the warrior. The emotional weight of the sybilline utterance relies upon the authority which the character is given to command in the narrative. “And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand? & what dread feet? (Blake 74). Blake is declaring the centrality of the old tradition through a supposedly animal perspective. The tone of an adult represents as entirely reliable, utter the contentious statement supposedly ratifies a specific view of the relations of between men and nature. The man admits such problem and recognizes such division between the self and Nature.

The main stylistic device used in both poems is rhetorical questions. In “the Lamb”, rhetorical questions help the author to create a unique atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt:. “Dost thou know who made thee? “ (Blake 49). Blake does not give clear answers to the questions but leave it to readers to decide what the right one is. Blake identifies the country with his mind. As the record of his past and architect of his present, the country is for him both memory and desire. At the character’s image is anomalous and its own fictional basis refuses to support the weight which is loaded upon it. The narrative leads away from action in the sphere of personal problems the context of the “problem”, to a “solution” either withheld or delivered depending upon one’s “place” in the traditions. The people are central to the self-definition. They mark the place from which the child’s voice speaks. But what happens if the people move? Those poets who would continue to speak with a public voice must accordingly modify or renounce their mission. In order to be communally representative, particularly in a complex fragmented society, one must appeal more and more to abstractions, and to stock conventions and images.

“The Tiger” rhetorical questions are used as a from of criticism of social and personal life. “And what shoulder, & what art. /Could twist the sinews of thy heart? “ (Blake 74). The speaker asks a tiger about divine nature of all beings and how God has created them. The poem both identifies with its subject at the same time as it detaches itself from them. The verbal skill which celebrates the extremely laconic questions indicate a distance from them. The poem’s own reticent and respectful tone is one way to break down this separation. But of course Blake can never make the final identification and resort to meaningful shrugs. “When the stars threw down their spears, / And watered heaven with their tears, /Did he smile his work to see? “ (Blake 74). The speaker of the poem does not want to accept a course of events and his life. The conflict arises because of the desire to be acknowledged, recognized and vindicated as a human being, as the one who is “seeing” the scene. The poetic vocation underlies the poet’s separation from these men. In “the Tiger”, rhetorical questions breathe new life into the old traditions, but contemporary social circumstances have made those traditions increasingly untenable. The image of coherence which Blake invokes to sustain a position has been undermined by the tide of social changes. In response to cultural changes many people adopt a poetics of game or else of specificity.

“The Lamb” is based on a unique image of the lamb which can be understood as an innocent child and a weak creature. The image radiates a great deal of power, but while readers might wonder how much this radiance is artificially stimulated by a small creature the question finally is irrelevant here. He has also had to overlook his specific background in order to find beauty in a landscape and environment. Blake mentions: “Softest clothing, woolly, bright; /Gave thee such a tender voice” (Blake 49). The argument is that the meaning or the significance of any utterance in the present is generated by the language itself. Rather than seeing meaning as a complete and finished product like something handed down from on high and set in stone, it is understood to be a cultural process, an effect of human sign systems and so subject to revision along with the culture. Rather than constituting an adverse criticism, this is surely a valuable indication of Blake’s involvement in the conditions of the concern to recover a sense of wholeness and coherence.

The image of the tiger is used as a inner world of the main character, strong and and wise but at a loss. The character refuses to claim a godlike authority which can sweep over time and place; instead their work offers a subjective and possible history, dramatizing the notion that the world is cruel: “Dare its deadly terrors clasp?” (Blake). It peels back the language overlay with all its attendant assumptions and overfamiliarity until readers share the perspective of the tiger aboard the divine nature oft he world. In general when most poets venture into philosophical writing we read the results for the light thrown back upon the poems; similarly, Blake’s excursions into philosophy are mainly interesting for what they reveal of his poetry.. It is apparent from his essay that he does not believe that either reality or God–whether synonymous or not–is a function o rhetoric. Underlying the poem is a belief in an objective reality “as it is”, and a Universal God.

Conclusion

The examples of both poems show that Blake uses similar stylistic devices but conveys different meaning and themes in his poems. Language does not so much construct as disguise, colour or evade these realities. When Blake advertises hi rhetoric, he does so not to demonstrate a putative fictiveness of reality, but because of delight in language and in the power of language to construct a more satisfying “reality”. This last remark seems to undercut my earlier claim that for Blake language does not construct reality; what looks like a contradiction, however, proves to be a paradox: through language Blake can counteract the threatening others, whose presence is all too real. Blake uses two opposite symbols: a lamb and a tiger as a core of his poems. The Lamb symbolizes a child while a tiger can be interpreted as wise adult. The speaker’s point seems valid enough, and the spirit of game can lead to self-enclosed, even self-regarding, moments when communication seems secondary if not irrelevant. In these moments readers can see most directly the extent to which the stylistic device involves the construction of a self, that of the image, clearly becomes a function of the self. The use of these motifs reminds us that the poetry does not simply imitate a world, it re-creates one, a mythic land which is given shape and color by the poet’s symbols, totems and preoccupations. “the Tiger” and “the Lamb” offer as a performance, engaging, charming and captivating. While the poem pretends that the speaker is alone, its ornate cleverness suggests the presence of an audience to impress; and the audience implied by the poem’ rhetoric, rather than being comprised of individuals with personal fears and desires, is an anonymous public wanting to be entertained.

Works Cited

Blake, W. The Tiger. In Poems of William Blake. Boni and Liveright, 1920, p. 74.

Blake, W. the Lamb. In Poems of William Blake. Boni and Liveright, 1920, p. 49.

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