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Blake's "the Lamb" and "the Tyger": The Philosophy of Contraries

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Universität Salzburg PS: Understanding Poetry

Fachbereich Anglistik und Amerikanistik WS 2011/12

Blake's "The Lamb" and "The Tyger":

The philosophy of contraries

Valeria Barbieri

23 January 2012 1122347

CONTENTS

Introduction 1

The Lamb 1

The Tyger 3

Conclusion 6

Bibliography 7

Introduction

William Blake published two great collections of his poems, which were both written and illustrated by himself: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The first one was published in 1789, with the explosion of the French Revolution, while the second one was added in 1793. As the titles themselves show, the two works are meant to contrast with one another but are at the same time complementary. In Songs of Innocence most of the poems are about infancy, but at the same time the visionary element which characterized Blake's later work is introduced; childhood represents not only a particular age but also an innocent view of life. The second collection portrays the world of adult life and builds a parallel universe where people are selfish and incapable of spontaneity. For this reason critics have spoken about Blake's dual vision of life, his view of the interdependence of good and evil, of energy and restraint. This paper compares in great detail two poems, "The Lamb" and "The Tyger", that are included in Blake's collections and perfectly show his philosophy of contrasts. First, "The Lamb" will be analysed in both structure and content; second, "The Tyger" will be analysed in the same way. The aim of the paper is to demonstrate how Blake's dual vision of life is reflected in these two poems and particularly in the dual symbol of the lamb/tiger.

"The Lamb"

The lamb is a symbol of the innocence of childhood. Some critics have pointed out that the child-like qualities of the lamb, connoting weakness and innocence, refer also to the infant Jesus. The poem is included in Songs of Innocence which was published in 1789, with the explosion of the French Revolution.

The speech situation is quite simple. The poetic speaker is a child who is talking to the lamb. The entire poem is told in the first person, as the personal pronoun "I" compares several times in the poem, the first one at the beginning of the second stanza: "Little Lamb, I'll tell thee," (New Literary Landscapes, A Short Anthology of Literature in English. From the Origins to the Contemporary Age. Graeme Thomson, Silvia Maglioni. Black Cat.2006, line 11). In the first stanza the child asks several questions to the lamb about its origins: how it came into being, how it acquired its manner of feeding, its "clothing" and its "tender voice" (Ibid. 7). By asking the lamb these questions, he also provides a description of the innocent creature underlining some of his qualities, such as innocence, purity and weakness. In the second stanza the speaker answers his own questions, by affirming that the creator of the lamb "calls himself a Lamb, He is meek, and he is mild; He became a little child" (Ibid. 13-15). The poem ends with the child blessing the lamb: "Little Lamb, God bless thee" (Ibid. 19).

Considering that the speaker is a child, Blake uses very simple syntax, and his choice of vocabulary reflects this simplicity, which is made even more evident by the repetition of certain words and lines, as well as the regularity of stress patterns and rhyme schemes which give the poem a musical rhythm. Words of the spoken language are used in the entire poem, with no exceptions.

Concerning the basic structure of the poem, it is composed of two stanzas, each containing five rhymed couplets. The rhyme scheme is AABBCCDD, which is called pair rhyme, and is regular through the entire poem. The poem is constructed in an artful way; the first and final couplets of each stanza are three-stress with feminine endings, while the central couplets are four-stress with masculine endings. Moreover, the poem could also be divided in two main parts: a question, from line 1 to 10, and an answer, from line 13 to 20. In the first part of the poem the lamb is described by the child as something concrete and real, while the second part describes its creator, who is meek and mild. All the lines of the poem are end-stopped lines, which means that the end of a line corresponds to the completion of the sentence. Another interesting feature of this poem, regarding its structure, is the repetition of the first and last couplets of each stanza. This technique reflects a child-like way of speaking, which is commonly characterised by a great amount of repetitions.

Repetition is also achieved through the repetition of sounds, especially of consonants, but also of entire words or verses. Alliteration is very frequent in the poem: first of all, in the first line of the poem "Little Lamb", then again in line 9 and 11, where the letter "l" is also repeated in the second part of the verse ("I'll tell thee"). The same kind of alliteration also appears in lines 12,19 and 20. Finally, in line 15 we find another example of alliteration with the repetition of the consonant "m" with the words "meek" and "mild". Anaphora is also used in the poem, and it occurs when the same word or phrase is repeated in successive lines. In line 1 and 2, for example, the phrase "who made thee" is repeated; then in line 3 the pronoun "thee" is used twice ("thee life/thee feed") and in lines 10 and 11 the phrase "who made thee" is again repeated. The second stanza also begins with an anaphora, like the first one, but this time the entire verse is repeated: "Little Lamb, I'll tell thee" (Ibid. lines 11,12). Line 15 contains the repetition of "he is" ("he is meek and he is mild", Ibid. ), and the pronoun "he" is then repeated in the following line.

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