The Tyger and the Lamb: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Songs of Innocence and…
  • 1:32 Innocence: The Lamb
  • 3:49 Experience: The Tyger
  • 6:00 Comparing the Lamb and Tyger
  • 7:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Davis

Richard teaches college writing and has a master's degree in creative writing.

What could a tiger and a lamb possibly have in common? In this lesson, we'll examine the relationship between William Blake's poems 'The Tyger' and 'The Lamb' as well as the 'contrary states of the human soul' Blake explores in his poetry.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Looking at the title of this lesson, you might imagine that we're going to be reading a poem that contains both a tiger and a lamb. Those aren't two animals you'd want to put in the same room, so things could get ugly if someone put them in the same poem. Fortunately for us, the poet William Blake put these animals in separate 'rooms.' 'The Tyger' and 'The Lamb' aren't just in two separate poems. . . they're in two very different collections.

Before we jump into the 'The Tyger' and 'The Lamb,' let's discuss the larger bodies of work the poems belong to. In 1789, William Blake printed a collection of 19 poems called Songs of Innocence (which contained 'The Lamb'). Five years later, in 1794, Blake printed a collection of 26 poems entitled Songs of Experience (which contained 'The Tyger'). After this point, the two volumes were published together as a collection called Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.

To be sure, that title sticks out because it's so long, but it's interesting for another reason. The title encourages us to consider the 'contrary states' of innocence and experience as we read the poems in both collections. However, because the collections are joined together, we must also be on the lookout for connections between the two. Even though they originally appeared in different volumes, 'The Tyger' and 'The Lamb' can be connected if we read them closely.

Innocence: The Lamb

Let's start with 'The Lamb.' As you read, pay careful attention to the tone (or the mood) of the poem. Also, the punctuation may seem a bit strange, but this is only because we're presenting the lines exactly as they were originally printed.

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly 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 & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

Blake has certainly chosen an appropriate subject to represent innocence. After all, what could be more innocent than a lamb? What's more, instead of just describing the lamb, Blake speaks to the lamb directly and asks it questions. This literary device is called apostrophe (not to be confused with the punctuation mark). Apostrophe occurs when a poet addresses a person, thing or idea that isn't able to respond.

Now, let's think about how Blake's use of apostrophe affects the tone of 'The Lamb.' Let's focus on the lines that Blake repeats Little Lamb who made thee / Dost thou know who made thee in the first stanza, Little Lamb I'll tell thee / Little Lamb God bless thee in the second stanza. By using lines that sound similar to each other and by using them multiple times in each stanza, Blake's voice sounds like that of a child trying to get the 'Little Lamb' to pay attention.

Next, let's focus on the imagery that Blake uses. When I use the term imagery, I'm not just referring to words and phrases that create pictures in the reader's head. Imagery can also involve the other senses (sound, smell, touch and even taste). For example, when Blake writes that the lamb is 'Soft and wooly bright,' we can feel the lamb's wool and see how bright it is.

Experience: The Tyger

Next let's look at 'The Tyger.' As you read this poem, think about the terms we explored when analyzing 'The Lamb' (tone, apostrophe and imagery).

Tyger Tyger. burning bright,
In the forests 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, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & 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!

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