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Lamb, The

Little Lamb, who made thee?


Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,


Little Lamb, I'll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

The Tiger
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies


Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And What shoulder, and what art,


Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?


In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,


And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Songs Of Experience: Introduction


Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future sees
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word,
That walk'd among the ancient trees.

Calling the lapsed Soul


And weeping in the evening dew;
That might controll.
The starry pole;
And fallen fallen light renew!

O Earth O Earth return!


Arise from out the dewy grass;
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumbrous mass.

Turn away no more:


Why wilt thou turn away
The starry floor
The watery shore
Is given thee till the break of day

Songs Of Innocence: Introduction


Piping down the valleys wild
Piping songs of pleasant glee
On a cloud I saw a child.
And he laughing said to me.

Pipe a song about a Lamb:


So I piped with merry chear,
Piper, pipe that song again--
So I piped, he wept to hear.

Drop thy pipe thy happy pipe


Sing thy songs of happy chear,
So I sung the same again
While he wept with joy to hear
Piper sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read—
So he vanished from my sight
And I pluck'd a hollow reed.

And I made a rural pen,


And I stained the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs,
Every child may joy to hea

About the poet

William Blake was born on 28 November 1757, and died on 12 August 1827. He
spent his life largely in London, save for the years 1800 to 1803, when he lived in
a cottage at Felpham, near the seaside town of Bognor, in Sussex. In 1767 he
began to attend Henry Pars's drawing school in the Strand. At the age of fifteen,
Blake was apprenticed to an engraver, making plates from which pictures for
books were printed. He later went to the Royal Academy, and at 22, he was
employed as an engraver to a bookseller and publisher. When he was nearly 25,
Blake married Catherine Bouchier. They had no children but were happily
married for almost 45 years. In 1784, a year after he published his first volume of
poems, Blake set up his own engraving business.

Many of Blake's best poems are found in two collections: Songs of


Innocence (1789) to which was added, in 1794, the Songs of Experience (unlike
the earlier work, never published on its own). The complete 1794 collection was
called Songs of Innocence and Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of
the Human Soul. Broadly speaking the collections look at human nature and
society in optimistic and pessimistic terms, respectively - and Blake thinks that
you need both sides to see the whole truth.

Blake had very firm ideas about how his poems should appear. Although spelling
was not as standardised in print as it is today, Blake was writing some time after
the publication of Dr. Johnson's authoritative Dictionary of the English
Language (1755). Many of Blake's spellings which seem odd or old-fashioned to
us, must have struck his readers, too, as quaint. Blake similarly used non-
standard forms of punctuation, especially using the ampersand (&) in place of the
word "and" (today this is only normal in business names). In keeping with his
profession, Blake did not print his poems in type, but engraved them (like
handwriting) on an illustrated background. The printed copies were then coloured
by hand: Blake was an artist in words and pictures. In some modern editions for
students (such as the AQA Anthology, used by people taking GCSE exams in
England), the spelling and punctuation have been modernised in standard forms;
type replaces handwriting and no pictures appear - you should look at copies of
the poems as Blake produced them, in order to decide whether this is a good or
bad thing.

The Little Boy Lost and The Little Boy Found


The poems in detail | The poet's method

Both of these poems appear (together) in Songs of Innocence. The titles more or
less tell the reader what the poems are about. In the first, a father leaves behind
his tearful child in the dark. In the second, as the child cries, God appears, kisses
the child and restores him to his mother who has been crying and looking for the
boy. In The Songs of Experience are two (very different) poems called A Little
BOY Lost and A Little GIRL Lost. They are both horrible, especially the former, in
which a priest accuses a boy of blasphemy (for not showing God enough love),
puts him in an "iron chair" and burns him to death "in a holy place" where "many
had been burned before", while his parents look on and weep.

The poems in detail

The three human characters are not at all specific people but clearly
representative or universal types - like people in the parables of Jesus. (This is
true of all the people we meet in The Songs of Innocence and Experience,
though sometimes there are distinguishing features as with the children in The
Little Black Boy or The Chimney Sweeper, where the sweep is called Tom
Dacre.) In this poem, God appears, too but not as an abstract idea (a view of
God that Blake hated). He is like the God of the Book of Genesis (who walks in
the Garden of Eden and shuts up Noah in the Ark).

The first half of The Little Boy Lost is a cry of alarm from the child - he asks
where his father is going, tells him to slow down and asks the father to speak, or
else his "little boy" will be lost. Instead of the father's expected reply comes the
shocking discovery - where the reader shares the child's horror - that the father is
gone, and it is dark night. The dew is forming and the boy is in a deep mire
(muddy or marshy ground). As the boy cries, the mist goes away - perhaps a hint
that something good will happen.

The reader is not very alarmed - for two reasons.

• First, all the Songs of Innocence have happy endings of sorts, and
• second, the reader may have seen that there is another poem called The
Little Boy Found.

In The Little Boy Found we see another hopeful sign - the boy is being guided by
some kind of "wandering light". It may belong to the father who has left him, or
may suggest (in the word "led") a guardian angel or spirit. As the boy cries, God
comes to his aid - in white, which suggests his goodness. God is also "like his
father", which may mean he looks like the father who earlier deserted the boy, or
may suggest the idea that God is the boy's (and everyone's) real father - more so
than any earthly parent.

The father, who leaves the boy, is contrasted with the anxious mother who goes
in search of him, "pale" with sorrow and weeping (though Blake may mean
"weeping" to refer to the "little boy"). God brings the child back to his mother.
Attentive readers will see that she has no hope of finding the boy without God's
help. Why? Because she has been looking in the wrong place - the "lonely dale"
(a valley), while the boy has been in a marsh ("mire") or "fen". (Unless Blake
means us to understand that the fen is in the valley - which is possible.)

The poems also appeal to one of our most basic fears - or rather two:

• our fear, if we are children, of being lost or left behind by our parents and
• our fear (perhaps even greater), if we are parents, of losing a child.

(This is amplified by real-life reports of abductions and violence to children - and


is one of the most profound and terrifying fears we ever face. For many
readers, The Little Boy Lost will be far scarier than any conventional horror story
or film.)

The poet's method

Blake's narratives, simply as stories, are very naïve and childlike. But they tell of
profound and universal experiences or ideas. We worry about children who really
get lost - and any young child has fears (perhaps made stronger by parents'
warnings) of being lost or separated from mother or father.

The two poems thus form a narrative in two parts - being lost and being found. It
also contrasts the way that human parents fail with God's power and love in
caring for children. There is a very similar but much more detailed story in
Chapter 7 of The Wind in the Willows ("The Piper at the Gates of Dawn") where
little Portly the otter is lost but restored to his worried parents with the help of the
animals' god, Pan.

Blake does not use metaphors - where something in the poem represents some
other thing, usually an abstraction, in a one-to-one way. Rather he
uses symbols - and leaves it to the reader to decide what they mean. So we may
understand God in the poem as being more or less the same as in Genesis, or,
very differently, as the divine element in good people who look after children. And
we may see the poem as being about a real child getting lost in a fen, or about
the way in which generally, we are unsure about the world and our place in it.

The poems are very short - each has only two stanzas, and the pair together
have a mere 16 lines. Although the narrative seems to be stripped down to its
essentials, there is room for some suggestive details - so we read

• that God is "in white",


• that the "vapour" (mist, presumably) flies away,
• that a "wandering light" leads the child and
• that he is lost in a fen, while his mother seeks him in a dale.
With this poet, we can never quite be sure how far these things are intentional
and how far they are simply suggested by the need for a rhyme - but it is wiser to
suppose that Blake means exactly what he says (or writes) in the Songs of
Innocence and Experience.

The Tyger

Blake was regarded in his time as very strange, but many of his ideas make
sense to the modern reader. When this poem was written it was most unusual for
writers to show interest in wild animals. People did not have access to wildlife
documentaries on television, as we do today: exotic animals might be seen in
circuses and zoos, but tigers would be a rarity, perhaps turning up stuffed or as
rugs (this was to become very common in the 19th century). Just as today the
tiger is a symbol of (endangered) wildlife, so for Blake, the animal is important as
a symbol - but of what? One clue is to be found in the comparison with The Lamb
(see the next poem, and the fifth stanza of this one). Blake's images defy simple
explanation: we cannot be certain what he wants us to think the tiger represents,
but something of the majesty and power of God's creation in the natural world
seems to be present.

Blake's spelling in the title (The Tyger) at once suggests the exotic or alien
quality of the beast. The memorable opening couplet (pair of rhyming lines)
points to the contrast of the dark "forest of the night" (which suggests an
unknown and hostile place) and the intense "burning" brightness of the tiger's
colouring: Blake writes here with a painter's eye.

The questions that follow are directed at the tiger, though they are as much
questions for the reader. They are of the kind sometimes
called rhetorical (frequently used in public speaking, rhetoric in Greek) because
no answer is given. However, these are questions to which the answer is far from
obvious. For example, the answer to the first question might be "God's"
("immortal hand or eye"), but Blake is asking not so much "whose?" as "what
kind of?" We are challenged to imagine someone or something so powerful as to
be able to create this animal. The idea that the tiger is made by someone with
hands and eyes suggests the stories in the Biblical book of Genesis, where God
walks in the Garden of Eden and shuts Noah in his ark. It is again the painter and
engraver who observes the complexity of the tiger's markings in their "fearful
symmetry". The sensitive human artist is awe-struck by the divine artistry.

Blake asks where the fire in the tiger's eyes originates. It is as if some utterly
daring person has seized this fire and given it to the tiger (as, in Greek myth,
Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to men). The poet is amazed at
the complexity of the tiger's inner workings ("the sinews of thy heart"), at the
greater power that set the heart beating, and wonders how the animal's brain
was forged: "What the hammer...in what furnace...what the anvil?"
The penultimate (last but one) stanza takes us back to Genesis and the creation
story there: on each of the six days (He rested on the seventh) God looked at His
work and "saw that it was good". God is represented as being pleased with His
creation, but Blake wonders whether this can be true of the tiger. If so, it is not
easy to see how the same creator should have made The Lamb. The poem
appropriately ends, apparently with the same question with which it started, but
the change of verb from "could" to "dare" makes it even more forceful.

This poem is not so much about the tiger as it really is, or as a zoologist might
present it to us; it is the Tyger, as it appears to the eye of the beholder. Blake
imagines the tiger as the embodiment of God's power in creation: the animal is
terrifying in its beauty, strength, complexity and vitality.

The Lamb

In The Tyger Blake points to the contrast between these two animals: the tiger is
fierce, active, predatory, while The Lamb is meek, vulnerable and harmless. In
the first stanza Blake, as in The Tyger, asks questions, and these are again
directed to the animal, although the reader has less difficulty guessing the
answer, which the poet in any case gives in the second stanza. The picture of
The Lamb's feeding "by the stream and o'er the mead" (=meadow) is a beautiful
one, which suggests God's kindness in creation, and has an echo of similar
descriptions in the Old Testament book of Psalms (especially Psalm 23, "The
Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want") and the parables of Jesus.

In the second stanza, Blake reminds The Lamb, and us, that the God
who made The Lamb, also is like The Lamb. As well as becoming a child (like the
speaker of the poem) Jesus became known as The Lamb of God: Jesus was
crucified during the Feast of the Passover (celebrating the Jews' escape from
Egypt) when lambs were slaughtered in the temple at Jerusalem. This was
believed to take away the sins of the people who took part in the feast. So when
Jesus was killed, for the sins of all people, according to the Christian faith, He
came to be called The Lamb of God. Although this is an image mainly of
meekness and self-sacrifice, in the last book of the Bible (Revelation) Jesus
appears as a Lamb with divine powers, who defeats the Anti-Christ and saves
mankind. Blake's poem seems to be mainly about God's love shown in his care
for The Lamb and the child and about the apparent paradox, that God became
both child and Lamb in coming, as Jesus, into the world.

The Tyger and The Lamb go well together, because in them, Blake examines
different, almost opposite or contradictory, ideas about the natural world, its
creatures and their Creator. How do you see the two animals depicted? What
images do you find interesting, and what do they tell you?

The 1794 collection, remember, was called Songs of Innocence and Experience
Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul: explain how these poems
show "contrary states".
How, in these two poems, does Blake explore different ideas about God and
nature? Which do you find more appealing (if either) and why?

Both poems use simple rhymes and regular metre. Does this mean the ideas in
the poems are simple, too? Give reasons for your answer.

A useful exercise here (as with all the poems) is to present the poems either as
Blake did (this will require some research), or as you imagine he might have
done. That is to say, you should use a handwriting style which seems
appropriate, and illustrate/decorate the background or surrounding area. You
could use this copy for familiarising yourself with the poems. You might like to
use Blake's original spelling and punctuation (your teacher should be able to give
you a copy of this).

A Poison Tree

In this poem and the two which follow it, a central metaphor explains a truth of
human nature. A Poison Tree shares with The Human Abstract the image of a
tree as it grows, while in London the image is of manacles: all of these Songs of
Experience show the dark side of human nature. A Poison Tree tells how anger
can be dispelled by goodwill or nurtured to become a deadly poison. It is
appropriate that poems touching on Biblical themes should be parables, not
unlike those of Jesus, in which a spiritual or abstract meaning is expressed in a
vivid, picturesque story.

The opening stanza is among the most deceptively simple and memorable of all
Blake's lyrics: the form of each couplet is grammatically the same, but
substituting four words wholly alters the meaning, from the ending of anger with
the "friend" to the continuing anger with the "foe".

Blake does not tell us what is growing (although we may guess this to be the tree
of the title) but it is evidently a plant of some kind: the real "fears" and "tears" are
what metaphorically water the plant (encourage his hatred?), and "smiles" and
"deceitful wiles" are as the sunshine which makes it grow: the reader at once
grasps the simple natural metaphor, and the deep psychological truth it
expresses. At length the tree grows to bear a single fruit, which the "foe" wants
because he supposes the speaker to value it: "And he knew that it was mine".
The sequel is shocking: the foe steals the apple and eats it, not knowing that it is
poisonous: "In the morning glad I see/My foe outstretched beneath the tree". As
we remember that this is a metaphor we realise that literal murder (of the body) is
not what Blake describes but some profound spiritual, or (as we would now say)
psychological harm is meant.

This is a horrible poem because it depicts with appalling honesty the hatred of
which man is capable and the cunning with which we can conceal our anger. The
anger depicted here is not the anger we call the heat of the moment, but "wrath",
one of the seven deadly sins, a brooding, festering desire to get even at all costs.
The apple of the third stanza reminds us of the story of Adam and Eve. In the
biblical account, God forbids the couple to eat the fruit of "the tree of knowledge",
but this fruit is commonly represented as an apple (this detail appears in
mediaeval carols and in Milton's poem, Paradise Lost). Another apple which
caused trouble was the golden apple from the garden of the Hesperides, which
Paris, prince of Troy, gave to Aphrodite, goddess of love, in preference to Athena
and Hera. As a symbol of irresistible temptation, the apple is deeply convincing.

The enemy is almost as wily as the speaker, waiting until a night which has
"veiled the pole". This "pole" could mean simply the hemisphere which surrounds
the pole or, some critics suggest, the Pole Star: a very bright star used for
navigation; if this is what Blake means then a night which "veiled the pole" (with
fog, say) would be exceptionally black. The metaphor suggests the darkness, the
inscrutable mystery of evil: we cannot see it at work, but we can see its results
later. Perhaps, though, the most shocking word in the poem is "glad". This is not
the innocent gladness of a clear conscience, but the almost diabolical self-
satisfaction of the poisoner. The triumphal gloating is miles away from the simple
reconciliation of the poem's opening couplet. The poem perfectly unites the
simple extended image, and the deep human truth it illustrates.

The Human Abstract

The title and the last stanza of this poem make it clear that the tree described
here is a symbol of an "abstract" quality found in "the human brain". This is less
easy to understand than the evil of anger, which Blake explains in A Poison Tree,
but again the poet is aware of the "Two Contrary States of the Human Soul" and
the "Mystery" (Stanza 4) of the tree which "bears the fruit of deceit", and in which
the Raven, the omen of death, "his nest has made".

The poem's opening reminds us of Jesus words to Judas Iscariot (John's Gospel,
Chapter 12, verse 8): "the poor always ye have with you". What was meant by
Jesus as a shrewd comment on poverty (that it will never wholly go away) has
been taken by some readers of the gospels to be a kind of universal law: that
there must be losers if there are also to be winners, and Blake states this idea in
his opening couplet: that "pity" (compassion, a good thing) depends on there
being some people who are "poor". The key word here is "make" - as if we force
people into poverty so that they can receive our "pity". Instead of a fair society,
the rich give handouts to the poor, and feel smug about doing so. In the same
way, happiness is not allowed to be universal, or no-one would need "Mercy".
Blake may be merely describing the way things are. If he is suggesting how
things ought to be, then he does so ironically: he certainly does not approve of
this inequality. The ideas in this first stanza are clearly relevant to our own times,
but would have been thought very shocking in Blake's time, when British society
was organised on principles of clear inequality.

In the four central stanzas, Blake's argument becomes less clear, but a number
of things are worthy of note: that "peace", usually a good thing, may be the result
of "mutual fear" (Blake anticipates in a single line the modern idea of deterrence -
that peace is achieved by would-be enemies living in fear of each other), and
how, in "The Human Abstract", good things like "holy fears", "tears" and
"Humility", are mixed up with wickedness - "mutual fear", "the selfish loves" and
"cruelty" - in "the dismal shade/Of Mystery". Cruelty, as he "knits a snare" or
"spreads his baits" is likened to a pitiless hunter (snares and baits would be used
to catch small game; "his" suggests a person, not an abstraction) while the idea
of sickness or corruption is suggested by the "Catterpiller and Fly" which "Feed
on the (tree of) Mystery". As in A Poison Tree there is attractive fruit, though we
do not know who is to eat it. The "thickest shade", where the "Raven" nests,
suggests the secrecy and obscurity of the "Human Abstract" here described.

The final stanza gives us the key to the poem: the "Gods" sought "in vain" in the
natural world for such a tree, but the poet knows it is found "in the Human Brain"
- that its existence is real, but metaphorical, rather than literal. The tree and its
fruit suggest particularly the tree, in Genesis, of the knowledge of good and evil:
as man has eaten the fruit of this tree, so he has gained this forbidden
knowledge, which is particularly the subject of the poem's first two stanzas.

This poem is hard to understand in its entirety, but rewards close study. It
contains some striking images, and the opening stanza is a challenging
statement of the problems faced by those who want to create a fair society - or,
perhaps, of the reasons why a fair society will never be realised. The poem
obviously has much in common withA Poison Tree in Blake's choice of central
metaphor, and in how this image is developed to symbolise, in complex ways,
truths about human nature which would be less clear and interesting if explained
in abstract terms.

London

This is a poem which makes sense to the modern reader, as it exposes the gulf
between those in power and the misery of poor people. The picture of the city as
a place of nightmare is common in the 20th century, but is perhaps surprising to
find in such an early text as this. We have to wait for the novels of Dickens and
James Thomson's Victorian poem The City of Dreadful Night, before we find
such a grim view of the city reappearing.

Although there are several details which we need to note, we should begin with
the central metaphor of this poem, the "mind-forg'd manacles" of the second
stanza. Once more a vivid symbol explains a deep human truth. The image of the
forge appears inThe Tyger (stanza 4). Here Blake imagines the mind as a forge
where "manacles" are made. "Manacles" (for the hands - French les mains) and
shackles for the legs, would be seen on convicts, perhaps passing along the
streets on their way to prison or, commonly in London in Blake's time, on their
way to ships, for transportation to Australia. For Blake and his readers, the image
is a very striking and contemporary one: they will have seen "manacles" and will
view them with horror. The image is also an allusion (reference, loose quotation)
to an even more famous statement. In 1762, some thirty years before Blake
wrote London, the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in The
Social Contract: "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains". Blake agrees
with Rousseau that man's lack of freedom, his "manacles" are "mind-forg'd" -
they come from the ideas and outlook imposed on us by external authority.

We see this beautifully in the poem's opening: it is a matter of fact that charters
were granted to powerful people to control the streets of London and even the
river. It is absurd that the streets are "chartered" (not free to ordinary people) but
blatantly so in the case of the mighty river, which cannot really be controlled by
the passing of a law. Blake writes ironically of "the chartered Thames". The
"weakness" and the "woe" (a strong word in 1794; =misery) of every person is
plain to see "in every face", as in their cries, whether of adults or babies (stanza
2).

Blake gives us three powerful examples of this "weakness" and "woe", starting
with the chimney-sweep. As the church building is literally "black'ning" with
smoke from the chimneys, so the church as an organisation, which should help
the poor, is blackened, metaphorically, with shame at its failure to give that help.
The church should be appalled, as the poet evidently is, by the cry of the
"chimney-sweeper". (There is a pun here: "appals" means "goes pale", as with
fear, but these churches are going black, with smoke and soot.)

The second image, of the "hapless" (unfortunate) soldier is topical: the poem was
written shortly after the start of the French Revolution: this was so bloody an
uprising that the figure of speech called hyperbole (=exaggeration) was often
used, as blood was said to be running down the walls. Blake shows how the
unhappiness of the English soldier could, if its causes were ignored, lead to
similar bloodshed here.

But the last image is the most shocking to Blake, as to us: the cry of the child-
prostitute is the truth behind respectable ideas of marriage. New birth is no happy
event but continues the cycle of misery, and the wedding carriage is seen as a
hearse, leading to a kind of death (of innocence? of happiness?). The word
"plagues" here suggests the sexually transmitted diseases which the "youthful
harlot" would contract and pass on to others (men married for convenience but
with no desire for their wives), giving her cursing words real destructive power.

Writing about poetry

Each poem is (or should be) unique, but many poems can be explained in terms
of certain elements or conventions which are commonly used: in discussing a
poem, you might consider its subject (what it is obviously about), its theme (what
it is about at a deeper level, important ideas), its argument (how the ideas are
organised), its structure and form (use of stanzas, rhyme, metre and so on), its
key images (word-pictures, symbols, metaphors and similes) and any other
effects (like sound-effects, puns, allusions). If there is not much to say on one of
these, don't worry: there will always be something worth saying on some of them,
if the poem is any good. These different categories are now explained in more
detail. In your writing they do not need sub-headings, but should normally appear
in different paragraphs.

Blake's subjects and themes

Although you could consider these apart, in all five of the poems there is a clear
connection between the outward subjects and the deeper truths they express.
ThusThe Tyger and The Lamb are apparently about a wild and a tame animal,
but are really about God's power in creation or the power of the natural world and
the nature of God as shown in Jesus. A Poison Tree and The Human
Abstract seem to be about mysterious trees with dangerous fruit, but really tell of
the "contrary states of the human soul", while London is obviously about the way
some people live unhappy lives but at a deeper level is about how "every" person
is miserable.

Argument, structure and form

In The Tyger and The Lamb the argument takes the form of a conversation with
the animal, to which many questions are addressed (in The Lamb Blake gives
the answers). A Poison Tree and The Human Abstract tell short stories,
while Londonappears to describe a personal experience of walking "thro'
midnight streets", expressed in terms of three encounters. The Lamb has a
simple form which reflects the structure: one longish stanza of questions, and an
equally long stanza of answers. In all the other poems (four or six) four-line
stanzas are used to carry the argument. These are in rhyming couplets, except
for London with its more elaborate ABAB rhyme-scheme.

Key images

In discussing Blake's poetry it is virtually impossible not to spot what the images
are but sometimes almost impossible to say what they mean! In three of the
poems, the central image appears in the title; in The Human Abstract the title
gives the meaning of the central image, while in London the key image is found
in the second stanza. The other important details (of extended metaphors) like
the "apple" or the raven's "nest" or related images, like "the chartered Thames"
or "the marriage hearse" are discussed in the detailed commentaries above.

We might also comment on where these images come from. Blake's poems are
full of references to nature, but these are not made from direct observation as a
naturalist or a poet like Wordsworth makes them: rather nature is understood as
in a book for children or in the Bible: we find exotic, fiery tigers, innocent, woolly
lambs, magical trees bearing deadly fruit and sinister caterpillars and ravens. The
town, which Blake does know, is depicted essentially realistically in London. All of
the poems draw on the Bible for their images (in London this is less obvious, but
the "harlot" and the "new-born infant" can both be found in the Bible).
Other effects

Reading these poems might lead you to think that Blake had a very narrow
vocabulary, but this is not the case. He makes deliberate repeated use not only
of a given word, but a given (often unoriginal) rhyming pair, like "fears" and
"tears" (find this twice; then find "spears" and "tears", and "hear" and "tear"). In
these poems Blake is striving for simplicity (which is why they are Songs). He
writes the poems like folk-ballads or nursery-rhymes, almost. What he is saying
seems so obvious that we can attend to (a far harder question) what it means.
But often the simple style hides a very clever expression. Equally, it is difficult to
say what Blake has said without using many more words, as with his comment
on the "black'ning church" in London. Blake is especially fond of repetition, either
of a whole sentence form (in the opening stanza of A Poison Tree) or a single
word or short phrase (as with "In every..." in London).

The Tyger

Subject and theme: Tiger as a symbol of God's power in creation

Key images: The tiger as seen by Blake's poetic imagination: "fearful symmetry";
"burning bright...fire"; "hammer...chain...furnace...anvil".

Technical features:

• Repeated (rhetorical) questions; contrast with meekness of The Lamb;


• Tyger is addressed directly;
• simple metre and rhyme;
• incantatory rhythm (like casting a spell);
• creation like an industrial process (fourth stanza).

The Lamb

Subject and theme: Lamb is symbol of suffering innocence and Jesus Christ.

Key image: The Lamb as seen through the eyes of a child.

Technical features:

• Repeated questions, directed to the lamb, but easier to answer than those
addressed to the tiger;
• answers given in the second stanza;
• idyllic setting of "stream and mead"
• contrasts with "forests of night" (exotic and dangerous) in The Tyger;
• suggests Biblical book of Psalms especially the 23rd psalm, with its "green
pastures";
• as well as making The Lamb, God becomes like The Lamb: Jesus is both
the "Good shepherd" and "The Lamb of God". Like the Passover lamb, He
is sacrificed to redeem others.

General

Themes to look out for: Nature and human nature; animals and plants as simple
but profound symbols of powerful forces; "contrary states of the human soul" - for
example, good and evil, or innocence and experience.

Technical features: Always start by identifying and explaining the central images
in the poem; look at repetition, contrast and simple rhyme and metre; the rhymed
words are nearly always important nouns and verbs; look for unusual language
effects - Blake's non-standard spellings ("tyger", "catterpiller") and Biblical words
("wrath", "harlot"); puns and other wordplay.