The Romantic era is more open to the mythic, mystic, and spiritual than the Enlightenment had been. The Enlightenment tended toward the rational & natural and away from the supernatural. Its religion was deism - the idea that God set up the universe & then let it run without further interference. Thomas Jefferson, for example, had a New Testemant in which he scratched through all the supernatural events.
With the Romantic era, we see literature again dealing with the supernatural. Romantics might choose from any number of mythological perspectives; what they had in common was the desire to use these various approaches as ways of experiencing life. This does not mean that the Romantics necessarily thought such myths were objectively real - they were subjectively real. Such attitudes still exist. For example, some of the fans of Star Trek or Star Wars see them as providing valid modes of existence. They don't have to believe that Yoda and Mr. Spock are objectively real to find them subjectively appealing.
Blake's mythology incorporates much from the Christian tradition - both from the Bible and from such writers as Spenser, Milton & Shakespeare. Blake's mythology starts with the Universal Man in Eden who falls, not away from God but away from himself. It is a fall into division & alienation. Below Eden are three lower stages.
Blake published Songs of Innocence in 1789. In 1794 he added poems to the work and published it as Songs of Innocence and of Experience, reflecting his conclusion that it was not possible to live a totally innocent life.
The images above show how Blake intended these poems to be read. He etched the words & drawings into copper plates, printed them, and hand painted each one.
At first glance, these poems seem to fall into traditional Christian moral dualism (the idea of good vs evil, God vs Satan, etc.). But both innocence and experience are elements of the Universal Man that have become alienated from each other. Each needs the other to be complete, which is more like the Taoist yin & yang (female & male. passive & active. dark & light, etc.) than the Christian God versus Satan.
Blake sanitizes "the valley of the shadow of death" into "Making all the vales rejoice!" There is no such valley in Beulah, the pastoral world. With innocence portrayed this way, no wonder Blake considered experience to be necessary.
- The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
- He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
- He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
- Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
The second stanza answers the question of the first stanza. The Lamb who made the lamb is obviously Jesus. The tradition of seeing Jesus as a lamb goes back to the New Testament, where Jesus becomes the Passover Lamb. "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1: 29). Blake makes Jesus the representative of innocence:
Blake portrays Jesus' goodness as meek, mild, & weak (little children don't have adult strength), almost as goody-goody rather than good.He is meek & he is mild.
He became a little child;
"We are called by his name." Children are sometimes called little lambs. Blake could be referring to the speaker's status as a Christian
"The Tyger" contrasts sharply with "The Lamb." The lamb is innocent. To the tyger, it's also delicious.
If we compare the meters of the 2 poems, "The Lamb" follows a regular pattern. The first two and last two lines of each stanza have 6 syllables (1-2, 9-10, 10-11, 19-20). The middle six lines in each stanza have 7 syllables per line (3-8, 13-18). The effect of the meter gives us the feeling of a lamb skipping through the fields.
"The Tyger" follows a less regular pattern. Most lines have 7 syllables, but some have eight (4, 10, 11, 18, 20, 24), and one line has only 7 syllables (6). The rhythms and sounds of the poem evoke the predator tiger rather than the innocent lamb.
If the lamb was "wooly bright," the tyger is "burning bright." It's time in night. It is active rather than passive, hard rather than soft. The opening question of each poem is similar - where did you come from? But the tone of each is different. What god COULD create the "fearful" (frightening) tyger (4)? What god DARES do so (24)?
If the lamb was created by the Lamb of God, who created the Tyger?
For Blake in this poem, it is the prohibition itself that makes sex guilty. To borrow from a NRA bumper sticker, "When sex is outlawed, only outlaws will have sex."
He goes to the Garden of Love but finds that his earlier Eden has undergone the fall & is now a chapel.
This chapel has "Thou shalt not" written over the door. It is defined by its prohibitions, especially the one against adultery.
Priests busily bind his "joys & desires" with "briars." They
turn something fun into something painful. What is in the churchyard?
A cemetary. Graves (death) have replaced the flowers (life) that were once
In the first poem, the infant gives itself the name Joy. The smiling baby inspires the adult to sing. The joy spreads.
In the second poem, the sorrow also spreads. The baby is born
with its mother groaning from the birth-pangs and with the father weeping.
The baby is "piping loud; / Like a fiend hid in a cloud." Unhappy
babies can cry and disrupt those around them. This baby struggles
against its father, against its swadling clothes, and sulks upon its mother's
breast. Even food doesn't make it happy. Could this be the
Blake treats life in the body as difficult, mortal, and sorrowful.
Jesus died to release us from this life, from which Blake accordingly turns
away. There is an ancient idea that the body is a prison for the
soul that Blake seems to follow here.
"A Divine Image" contrasts with "The Divine Image" point by point.
|"The Divine"||"A Divine": Traits||"A Divine": Source|
|Human form||love||terror||fiery Forge|