Virtue Versus Corruption
William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience exemplifies his ideas on the nature of creation. They demonstrate the innocent and bucolic world of childhood, versus an adult world of depravity and repression.
Blake stands outside innocence and experience, in a place where he finds invalidity in both. The Songs of Innocence emphasize children’s’ naive hopes, fears, curiosities and their transformation to adulthood. They draw attention to the positive aspects of life before the distortion and corruption of experience. The Songs of Experience state the difficult experiences of adult life and how they destroy one’s innocence. Poem, “The Lamb”, represents fragility and virtue, whereas its’ twinned poem, “The Tyger”, displays the contrary: evil forces. Though Blake does not identify himself fully with either view, the poems investigate his opposing perspectives on the world, one through a lens of innocence and another through experience.
The poem, “The Lamb” is in the form of a question and answer. The overall question, “who made thee?” at first, seems very simple, but the child is tapping into profound questions about the nature of his own creation. This poem contributes to the innocence of children, as the situation of a child talking to an animal is a rather realistic one. Yet, since the child ends up answering his own question, this counteracts with the original sense of the poem. The answer is provided as a riddle that the child is capable of answering himself. This shows an underlying or even unconscious knowledge within the child. The answer demonstrates the child’s confidence and acceptance in/of his faith. God is symbolized by a lamb, which Christians see as gentle and peaceful animals. Like many of the Songs and Innocence, this poem is what Blake saw as positive elements of the Christian belief. But it is not a complete teaching, as it does not mention the presence of grief and evil in the world. With its’ twinned poem (found in Songs of Experience, “The Tyger”), together, they give a view on religion that includes both the positive and the negative. The poems compliment one another and produce more of a demonstration of innocence and experience than either offers independently.
“The Tyger” focuses more on the negative aspects of the world. It begins with the question that the poem is based on: “What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?” The later stanzas further explore this idea. Throughout the poem, the question is asked in different forms (i.e. And what shoulder, and what art, could twist the sinews of thy heart?). Blake is trying to put across the idea that, much like a work of art, nature must have some reflection of its creator. With Blake’s use of vivid imagery (such as, “fire”, “hammer”, “furnace”, “chain”, “anvil”, and “spears” and the use of severe action words such as, “burnt”, “seize”, “twist”, “beat”, “grasp”, “clasp”, and “threw”), this creates specific connotations. Though the tiger is a fine animal, it also has a strong capability for violence. Blake’s approach to this is: what kind of god would create such a horrifying beast? What does the indisputable existence of such evil and ferocity tell us about its’ creator? And what does this mean about our world; where beauty can contain such terror? Blake applies supernatural creation to the natural world with the blacksmith in the poem, who represents a traditional image of artistic design.
The tiger first seems like a remarkable animal. However, as the poem continues, it takes on a symbolic form and embodies the problem that the poem explores: so beautiful, yet so pernicious. Blake’s tiger becomes the initial symbol for an exploration into the presence of evil in the world. The tigers’ nature dwells both in physical as well as moral conditions. Therefore, the speaker’s questions about its design must also include these two dimensions. The series of questions in this poem ask what the “fearful symmetry” of the tiger suggests, presuming that only a very powerful being could create such a species. The reference to the lamb in the second last stanza reminds the reader that the same God created both the tiger and the lamb. This demonstrates the contrast between the views of “innocence” and “experience” in both poems.
Revolution is defined as “a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving”. These poems, written years apart, take on opposite views. “The Lamb” represents a bright and innocent world full of happiness, whereas “The Tyger” is the opposite: dark. Combined, the question that the two ask is one worth pondering: How could such good and such evil exist in the same world? Blake makes a complete turn around with the way he looks at the world. He leaves us wondering about the concept of creation, the strength of God’s power and what he chooses to do with it. The perspective of experience in “The Tyger” involves a refined recognition of what we cannot explain in the universe. The wonders and questions of “The Tyger” contrast with “The Lamb”, where a child has such innocent faith in a kind universe.
Bibliography: Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and of Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Print.
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