The poetry of William Blake is renowned for its critique of society and injustice as well as expressing strong religious influences. Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience were written concerning the destiny of the human spirit and the differences between how children and adults view and understand the world. Blake believed that man had the potential to attain both wisdom through experience and joy through innocence. He admired the innocence of children and thought that self-awareness could be realized through the recapturing of the wonderment and imagination of a child. Songs of Innocence reflect that innocence and joy. Songs of Experience were written to expound upon how the knowledge of injustices, evils, and confusion arrive as a result of life experience.
These poems focus on understanding the evils and injustices of the world without becoming tainted by them in order to gain an awareness of our true identities. Two of Blakes most well known poems are The Lamb from Songs of Innocence and The Tyger from Songs of Experience. Each work contains elements relating to their themes. The Lamb is written through the viewpoint of a child as a symbol of innocence analogous to The Tyger as an example of experience. In The Lamb, Blake discusses many points pertaining to religion. The lamb is described as being meek, vulnerable, and harmless when Blake says, Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing, woolly, bright; Gave thee such a tender voice (lines 3-7).
The picture of the lamb feeding by the stream and oer the mead (line 4) suggests Gods kindness in creation. We are reminded in the second stanza that God, who created the lamb, is also like the lamb. For he calls Himself a Lamb. He is meek, and He is mild (lines 14-15). After He became a little child (line 16), Jesus became known as The Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. The innocence of the lamb is shown to be wholesome, good, an right, free from the corruption of the world.
The Tyger also deals with religious elements and creation asking, Did he who made the Lamb make thee (line 20). The first stanza asks the question of what kind of being could be powerful enough to create thy fearful symmetry (line 4). Blake is amazed at the complexity of the animal, what art, could twist the sinews of thy heart (lines 9-10), the power that caused its heart to beat, and at the formation of tigers brain. We cannot be completely positive of what the tiger represents, but with its fearsome appearance and savage nature, the majesty and power of Gods creation is manifested. The tiger is terrifying in its beauty, strength, complexity, and vitality. The lamb is obviously one of Gods creations with innocence and meekness with which he must be pleased, but Blake wonders whether He is as pleased with the tiger, Did he smile his work to see (line 19).
The poem ends with the poet questioning not who could create the animal, but who would dare to create such an animal. Because the tiger represents experience, it can be inferred that experience is not something to be desired and is evil. Through further examination we realize that experience, like the tiger, is to be respected and revered, but not enjoyed. The wisdom that comes from experience allows one to ponder lifes mysteries, inherent complications and problems, injustices, and abuses without becoming tainted by them while maintaining a state of innocence. The Tiger and The Lamb are complementary due to their examination of dissimilar, almost contradictory viewpoints. When analyzed together, we realize that there must be a union of opposites where innocence and experience are fused.
Simply returning to a state of innocence and ignoring the lessons taught through experience is not sufficient for us to become aware of our own identities, but recognizing and understanding the evils around us without becoming tainted by them is how we achieve self-awareness.