This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
“The Lamb” p. 870
• “The Lamb” from Songs of Innocence is typical of one of the plates Blake produced. Notice the embedding of the words within the branches and vines (which often seem to be dying or oppressive, pressing on the words themselves as in this poem).
“The Tyger” p. 874
Most of the plates in Songs of Innocence are meant to be balanced or read against the contrasting poem in Songs of Experience (one of the central concepts in Blake is the idea of the “contraries,” innocence and experience being two contrary states of being, two partial views of the world. He believed that contraries were necessary for any sort of progress but that both were flawed, only partial ways of seeing.) In this case “The Tyger” is the contrary to “The Lamb.” Note how
the poem asks basically the same question—who made you? It’s an easy question with a creature such as “The Lamb,” associated with goodness and helplessness, but a much more difficult question for a creature such as “The Tyger,” known as a dangerous predator. In this case, though, the tiger isn’t portrayed as the words of the poem might lead us to expect. This tiger isn’t crouching, ready to attack; it appears to be almost smiling, a larger version of a benevolent house cat. Perhaps the central line of this poem is “Did He who made the Lamb make thee?” In other words, did the same God who could create something good such as a lamb also create something dangerous and “bad” like a tiger? But from whose perception is the tiger bad? From the fallen view of experience, only able to see the part and not the whole? In Blake, only God is able to see the whole and is not limited by one view or the other.
“Chimney Sweeper”— Innocence, p. 871
• In this version of “The Chimney Sweeper” from Innocence, the boy himself (the small chimney sweeper) is comforted by his belief system. “Tho the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm.” But we, the readers, can only read from experience. We can only read the final line ironically; the view from innocence is no longer available to us once we have fallen from it.
“Chimney Sweeper”— Experience, p. 874
In this version of “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Experience, note how the chimney sweeper has been objectified, turned into “a little black thing among the snow.” Note also the inversion of the stereotypical way of using black and white. Here the “little black thing” is innocent and good, while the snow, which is white, is cold and cruel. The speaker’s voice here is that of the chimney sweeper who has fallen from innocence into experience and sees his own misery; the kind of comfort still available to the chimney sweeper in Songs of Innocence is not possible for this speaker. Neither the speaker from innocence nor the one from experience has the “truth”—both are only partial versions of the truth. By balancing us between the two, making us look at the contrast, Blake tries to let us see from both perspectives at once.
“Little Black Boy” p. 870
• This is an excellent example of how the engraved images subtly change the meaning of the poem. This poem appeared on two plates in Songs of Innocence. The speaker is a little black boy born in Africa (“the southern wild”) explaining to himself, and recalling his mother’s explanation, of his lot in life as a slave. Just as the two poems “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” together ask the question, could the same good loving God who would create a lamb also create a tiger (with the answer being, of course, yes), this poem also deals with the Problem of Evil. The boy speaks from innocence and is comforted by his answer to his question, that there is a reason God gave the black boy a harder lot in life, that he has a mission to shade the English boy from the harsh rays
•of the sun. We, however, read from experience. We read how the little black boy has internalized conventional messages about black and white (in the second line, for instance, the little black boy says “my soul is white,” indicating that he has learned society’s message that white means good and innocence). Note how the illustration from the first plate shows the African mother explaining to her son, presumably already a slave. The illustration from the second plate shows the little black boy’s idea of heaven, in which he and the English boy will be free of the “shade” or shadow of color and will both equally enjoy God’s presence. In the illustration, though, in contrast to the boy’s words, the little white boy seems to have all of God’s attention, while the little black boy is once again off to the side looking on, in a secondary or serving position. The words of the poem, too, must be read by us (since we must read through experience, the only lens available to us) ironically. The last two lines of
boy are free of the “shade” of color) the little black boy will the poem say that then (in heaven, when he and the English “stand and stroke his silver hair / And be like him and he will then love me.” Does he mean God, or the little English boy, or both? And don’t these lines present a picture of God’s love as “conditional” (he will love me when I’m like him, I.e. white) rather than unconditional? And what of the fact that the illustration seems to contrast with the words of the poem (the two boys seem to have different color even in Heaven, and only the white boy seems close enough to be able to stroke God’s hair)?