"The Tyger" and "The Lamb"

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The Tyger

Blake was regarded in his time as very strange, but many of his ideas make sense to the modern reader. When this poem was written it was most unusual for writers to show interest in wild animals. People did not have access to wildlife documentaries on television, as we do today: exotic animals might be seen in circuses and zoos, but tigers would be a rarity, perhaps turning up stuffed or as rugs (this was to become very common in the 19th century). Just as today the tiger is a symbol of (endangered) wildlife, so for Blake, the animal is important as a symbol - but of what? One clue is to be found in the comparison with The Lamb (see the next poem, and the fifth stanza of this one). Blake's images defy simple explanation: we cannot be certain what he wants us to think the tiger represents, but something of the majesty and power of God's creation in the natural world seems to be present. Blake's spelling in the title (The Tyger) at once suggests the exotic or alien quality of the beast. The memorable opening couplet (pair of rhyming lines) points to the contrast of the dark "forest of the night" (which suggests an unknown and hostile place) and the intense "burning" brightness of the tiger's colouring: Blake writes here with a painter's eye.
The penultimate (last but one) stanza takes us back to Genesis and the creation story there: on each of the six days (He rested on the seventh) God looked at His work and "saw that it was good". God is represented as being pleased with His creation, but Blake wonders whether this can be true of the tiger. If so, it is not easy to see how the same creator should have made The Lamb. The poem appropriately ends, apparently with the same question with which it started, but the change of verb from "could" to "dare" makes it even more forceful.
This poem is not so much about the tiger as it really is, or as a zoologist might present it to us; it is the Tyger, as it appears to the eye of the beholder. Blake imagines the tiger as the embodiment of God's power in creation: the animal is terrifying in its beauty, strength, complexity and vitality.

The Lamb

In The Tyger Blake points to the contrast between these two animals: the tiger is fierce, active, predatory, while The Lamb is meek, vulnerable and harmless. In the first stanza Blake, as in The Tyger, asks questions, and these are again directed to the animal, although the reader has less difficulty guessing the answer, which the poet in any case gives in the second stanza. The picture of The Lamb's feeding "by the stream and o'er the mead" (=meadow) is a beautiful one, which suggests God's kindness in creation, and has an echo of similar descriptions in the Old Testament book of Psalms (especially Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want") and the parables of Jesus.
In the second stanza, Blake reminds The Lamb, and us, that the God who made The Lamb, also is like The Lamb. As well as becoming a child (like the speaker of the poem) Jesus became known as The Lamb of God: Jesus was crucified during the Feast of the Passover (celebrating the Jews' escape from Egypt) when lambs were slaughtered in the temple at Jerusalem. This was believed to take away the sins of the people who took part in the feast. So when Jesus was killed, for the sins of all people, according to the Christian faith, He came to be called The Lamb of God. Although this is an image mainly of meekness and self-sacrifice, in the last book of the Bible (Revelation) Jesus appears as a Lamb with divine powers, who defeats the Anti-Christ and saves mankind. Blake's poem seems to be mainly about God's love shown in his care for The Lamb and the child and about the apparent paradox, that God became both child and Lamb in coming, as Jesus, into the world.