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The work of William Blake dates back to the 18th century and gets seen as artistic, mystic, poetic, and visionary. His romantic format of writing allowed for the creation of differing views such as the ones witnessed in "The Lamb", “The Tyger” and “A Poison Tree”. Blake employed his styles from a young age but his work got frowned upon and never got appreciation in his entire lifetime (Blake et al.). He believed that it is the sole purpose of art to disclose the reality of the mystical world through the liberation of imagination. The works of Blake only got some attention after his death. Blake radically questioned politics and religion as he pursued his career. Specifically, he critically focused on the church and put forth a determination to attack and question it (Blake et al.). There is evidence of his personal insight into his work to improve public awareness and try to find the truth. He is most famous probably due to the creativity and simplicity of the Songs of Innocence (also known as “The Lamb”) and Songs of Experience (referred to as “The Tyger”). The two are the one that majorly influenced his other works with themes of hell and heaven, good and evil, and knowledge and innocence.
William Blake born in 1757 and died in 1827 was a great painter and poet. He is one of the greatest anchors of poetry and arts during the romantic age. During the 20th
century, his prophetic works were the least read in the English language. By the 21st century, his work gained popularity after he was proclaimed one of the greatest artists ever produced by Britain (Blake et al.). The readers of the 19th century had a hard time determining whether he was sane or insane. Although some termed him as insane, there was something in his insanity that made his work interesting than that of Walter Scott or even Lord Byron. Born in a family of seven, he was the third born and dropped out of school at the age of ten with only writing and reading skills. He later got married to Catherine Boucher in 1872 after a recovery from a failed marriage proposal (Blake et al.).
In consideration of religion, William Blake contrary to the opinions of the Christian church and the homogeneous systems employed. It is evident that Blake's position was more spiritually oriented as opposed to a more religious one. He regarded himself as "monistic Gnostic"denoting that an individual's soul is not saved by faith but by knowledge (Blake et al.). His view towards religion got a blasphemous consideration, and in almost his writings gave more weight to one’s character of faith compared to that of the church institution, its political purpose, and its impacts on individuals mind and the society.
The nature of God gets a clear illustration in "The Lamb"and "The Tyger” as done by Blake. The main impression is that the lamb and the tiger got created by the same God, so the same way there is no suggestion that God created evil, then the perception that the tiger is “evil” should not exist (Gompf). Both the lamb and the tiger are all God's creation and clearly, indicate the two sides of God; the various aspects of existence. In “A Poisonous Tree”, the anger of the speaker gets a symbolic nature of a tree that bears poisonous apple. The allusion is that of the book of Genesis whereby the tree of knowledge of bad and good is the tree in the poem (Blake et al.). The deceitful and tempting serpent is the speaker and Adam and Eve represent the foe and are both culpable of disobedience.
Blake sees good and evil as not extreme to each other but instead considers evil as the replica of good. He cites it to be impossible for a human being to be entirely good or evil. The trait possessed by him is absent in most human beings and so is also not present in God’s nature (Blake et al.). Other writers and minds of his time were commonly deists who majorly believed on reason. They had minimal interest in God’s nature like what Blake did, in its place, the reason was their god.
The poetry by William Blake get characterized by various elements such as imagery, a unique writing style, romanticism and amalgamation of words and images (Blake et al.). Out of all the elements he employs, religion is the most prominent of them all. His poems deeply talk of religion which is entirely Christianity, by use of symbolism. At some point, one would think that he is preaching through his writing which is not the case. The reference and strong symbolism in his poems express and endorse his thoughts on Christianity. This paper will outline the element of religion in three of his poems; The Lamb “Songs of Innocence”, The Tyger “The Songs of Experience”, and “A Poisonous Tree”. The choice of the three poems is due to their competing views they hold on religion as stated by Blake.
There is certainty in the poem The Lamb and also the admiration of Jesus Christ and God. On contrary, The Tyger speaks about God in a questioning way, showing fear in him and when writing, he starts on the fearful aspect of God. The kindness and generosity of God are what brings the innocence that is comparable to the lamb. The Tyger illustrates the lessons from the encounters that God can also get rageful and mysterious (Gompf). The repetition of such phrases such as ‘I’ and ‘mine’ in A Poisonous Tree is an attempt by the speaker to explain that the obligation to manage anger is personal. If the anger is left to grow and not tamed, then the outcomes could get adverse. Therefore, according to Blake’s poetry religion expresses his strong belief in Christianity, reaffirms his thoughts of what he believes is the correct way of Christianity and confirms that poetry is a manifestation of his understanding about God.
William Blake's poem "The Lamb"outlines his exceptional style through the employment of religious symbolism, simple pattern, and imaginative lines. The Songs of Innocence got published in 1789 among other series of poems. The choice of a child narrator shows a simplistic structure and gets told via childlike eyes. The simplicity shows innocence in the entire human race where the lamb represents the Christ wondering over the creation of God (Gompf). The consistency use of allusive lyrics "The Lamb"and dramatic viewpoints proves to be a vital key in Blake's work and gets interpretation and reinterpretation by readers and critics ever since the death of Blake. He employs his rhetoric genius through a symbolic expression of the appearance of the lamb to that of God’s character. In the poem, the author comes up with a unique concept by highlighting “He is called by thy name / for he calls himself a lamb” (Blake et al.).
Apart from the significance of life and innocence portrayed by the lamb, it also expresses the subject that Jesus Christ is actually the lamb. The poem indicates the meekness and mildness of Christ thus showing the goodness and purity characteristic of God v. The poem gives a feeling of a person singing joyfully about Gods graciousness. There is a strong manifestation of religious symbolism in the poem. When he writes, “he is called by the name”, referring to Jesus Christ as the lamb and God as the creator. The purpose of religion in the poem achieved the intended purpose highlighting the strong belief by Blake, his high regard for Christianity and the explicit insight of God (Gompf).
It is a poetic equivalent of the lamb of innocence from initial poem Songs of Innocence. The poem creates a phrase of innocence as compared to experience. “The Tyger” is continued work from Songs of Experience composed in 1794 as a reply to the songs of Innocence (Jose). As opposed to the songs of experience which get an interpretation of a child, expressed in songs of innocence, transforms into maturity and is shaped by the tough encounters and adverse forces that truth has on the life of human beings thus showing the harmfulness of the tiger.
Blake employs his dishonestly complicated ideas, indirectness, and symbolism to depict the real meaning of "evil"in "The Tyger”. The use of “Tyger” in the place of tiger since it represents any kind of wild fierce cat (Jose). One of the sole themes of the poem is symbolism. For instance, the use of "furnace", "anvil", and "hammer"show a representation of the blacksmith (Blake et al.). Personification is evident where God is personified as the blacksmith, the maker, and Blake himself. In reconsideration, the existence of the tiger signifies superior mystery and directly referenced to the lamb when he raises the question whether the one who created the lamb also created the tiger (Jose).
In contrary to the lamb, The Tyger gets characterized by numerous questions which do not get any answers. The questions not only describes the Tyger but also God’s aspect which is fearful and mysterious (Jose). The trait of questioning is entirely religious in the poem, putting across the subject as to who the creator is. The significance of religion in the poem accomplishes Blake's aim of conveying his understanding of God, his wonders, his fears and his confusion (Jose).
The poem concentrates on the emotional nature of anger on the outcomes of people's relationships in an event that such anger is controlled. It relates directly to the darker part of the human soul (Blake et al.). The writer reveals the way he shared a conversation with a friend regarding his anger and all was okay but states that sharing the same with an enemy was impossible and at the same time retain the anger inside. The anger started to grow, and later became a symbolic tree that gave poison fruit. At the time of composing the poem, the society got an encouragement to keep emotions to themselves and portray a polite and tranquil identity to the humankind (Blake et al.).
Blake viewed the approach as demeaning and unhealthy thus called for a more vivid way of being, specifically regarding the ability to forecast emotions (Blake et al.). His thought was contrary to by then attitudes reflected by the state and the church. Christian Forbearance which was the initial title given to the poem by Blake clearly reflects this. The poem utilizes metaphor and biblical relations to explain the self-damage that can emerge as a result of anger suppression. The stress is on getting rid of undesirable emotions and continuing with life before the effort gets a negative impact on happiness and health of others.
Generally, based on the above analysis, it is right to infer that religion plays several roles in the poetry work of Blake. Religion is an illustration and a showcase of the views by Blake and also conveys his thinking of what is right or wrong in consideration of Christian morals and attempts to redesign it. He also sees it as an expression of his understanding of God. The experience by Blake is the only explanation as to the reason why the poems express such opposing views yet from the same writer. According to Blake's the lamb is what he thought of God while Tyger is what he understood of God. It is this reason that led to their characterization into both songs correspondingly. In A Poisonous Fruit, anger control is a focal issue for the vast majority of the society and the writer's theme is clear with its adversative persuasion to let go of the adverse energy. The religious allegory employed in Blake's poems also gets great support by his use of imagery through a combination of both images and words.
Blake, William, et al. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Anchor Books, 1982.
Blake, William, et al. Songs of Innocence & of Experience. Tate Publishing, 2008.
Gompf, Michelle. “The Silence of the Lamb and the Tyger: Harris and Blake, Good and Evil.” Blake, Modernity, and Popular Culture, 2007, pp. 179–191.
Jose, Chiramel Paul. “Skinning ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger.’” English Language and Literature Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 2015.
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