The romantic age - William Blake

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The age of revolutions
Great Revolutions characterized the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century:
• the American Revolution with the Declaration of American Independence in 1776,
• the Industrial Revolution,
• the French Revolution.
These events affected the cultural and literary aspects of life.
1776 the Declaration of American Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and it was signed in Philadelphia. For the first time in history it was stated (affermare) that every person has “a right to freedom and pursuit (conseguimento) of happiness”. In 1787 George Washington became the first president of the USA.
1789 the French Revolution broke out.(scoppiò) Its motto was “liberty, equality and fraternity”, this represented a message of optimism.
England was isolated and far from the big revolutions that characterized Europe in this period (the end of the 18th century). However the message of the French Revolution, liberty, freedom and equality influenced English intellectuals and poets conveying to their works a sense of optimism and faith (fede) in the revolutionary power of the people. Therefore when the regime of Terror was established, a general feeling of disillusionment pervaded their works.
• The first generation of Romantic poets shared the feeling of faith in the ideals of the French Revolution.
• The second generation of Romantic poets were disillusioned.
1760 – 1820: it started with the Agrarian Revolution (enclosure system). There were many inventions: the power loom, the steam engine, and an improved communications and transport infrastructure.
Emotion versus reason
In the second half of the Augustan Age there were already signs that artists were tiring (stanchi) of classical models. They began to write about mysterious and medieval settings. There was a growing (crescente) interest in feeling as opposed to thinking, a dominance of emotions and desire over reason, a strong sense of melancholy. This new sensibility appealed (faceva appello) to the heart and it claimed (reclama) for the supremacy of feelings and emotions. These new interests were in opposition with reason.
There was also a search for new literary models. In this period writers began to rediscover the art and popular tradition of the Middle Ages, to love eastern settings, supernatural events, mystery and emotion.
This new sensibility contained elements of introspection, nostalgia, emotionalism, individualism and led to (portare a) a new way of considering man in the Universe.
Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement originated in late 18th century in Western Europe.
Nature was no longer seen as something that man could rule by reason but as a real living being. Reason is declared a failure as a means, an instrument to explain reality.
Romanticism stressed the importance of nature in art and language and the experience of the sublime through a connection with nature. It stressed strong emotion and individual imagination.
Greater importance is given to the senses (one of the five powers, hearing, taste, sight, smell and touch, by which a person or an animal feels or notices)
Romanticism created the idea of childhood as a time of innocence, imagination, play, and pleasure children were associated with the idea of an uncorrupted natural world.
The individual gained a key role in this period. The Romantics placed emphasis on the significance of the individual. They exalted the figures of the outcast, the rebel, the hero.
Romanticism was also seen as a reaction against (the rising tide, alta marea) the rise of the industrialism.
According to (secondo) Rousseau’s thoughts society was seen as an evil force able to (capace) corrupt, to restrict (reprimere) individual personality and freedom. Only natural behaviour (comportamento) and impulse are good.
Rousseau’s theories also influenced the “cult of the exotic”; this means the love for what was far away in time and space.
The Sublime
Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). The text of Burke influenced Romantic Poetry.
Burke’s essay stated (affermare) that sublime emotions originated from terror and from the amazement (grande sorpresa) that accompanies it, and connected them mainly with vastness, solitude, magnificence, darkness, with wild (selvaggio) landscapes.
Burke connected the beautiful with the notion of smallness and variegation in contrast with the idea of sublime.
The relationship between art and beauty has always been important in an artistic movement. Burke substituted the idea of beauty with the idea of sublime. He influenced both the gothic novel and the romantic poetry. Burke insisted on the subjectivity of the perception which is related to astonishment and fear. The sublime has its roots in the feeling of fear and horror created by what is infinite and terrible such as the void, darkness, loneliness, in one word the sublime.
The “horrible beauty” gave aesthetic dignity to anything ugly existing in nature.
The economic situation in Britain: the Revolution in Industry and Agriculture
At the end of the 18th century Britain underwent enormous changes. It turned from a farming country to an industrial one. Population was growing quickly and demanded a faster and more efficient production. During the industrial Revolution occurred many changes: new technology, new sources of power as the steam-power, a series of inventions, the change of factory system, the improvement of transport. The introduction of new machinery into the textile industry allowed Britain to manufacture cloth more cheaply than elsewhere but these machines let one man do what before was done by many. This put many people out of work. James Watt patented the steam (vapore) engine.
The improvement of transport made goods cheaper. In this period new waterways were built and road conditions were improved.
The Agrarian Revolution was connected to the Industrial Revolution because both of them used technological inventions. The Agrarian Revolution took two principal forms: massive enclosure of open fields and common land. Cattle breeding and farming techniques were improved.
England was rich in raw materials and type of fuel (coal, iron) and it was rich in waterways important for transport.
Industrialism was a period of unhappiness for many people. Many people shifted from the agricultural areas of the south to the industrial areas of the north and to the Midlands. Consequences were dramatically: human exploitation, miserable housing and sanitation, increase of crime and loss of identity. Factories were built near the coal mines after the invention of the steam-engine. The workers lived by the work place in small towns called mushroom towns; these were overcrowded slums.
Women and children, the easiest to be exploited were especially employed.
Pollution caused by smoke and filth (sporcizia) made living conditions appalling (shocking, extremely bad).
The workers’ lives were revolutionised because of the mechanisation of labour. Life for them was very short, the life expectancy was below twenty years because of alienation, disease and heavy drinking to bear fatigue.
The beginning of the 19th century was a period of political stagnation and repression due to the rose of unemployment and the Napoleonic wars.
Romantic Poetry
The French Revolution of 1789 coincided with the publication of Blake’s Songs of Innocence, generally considered the first work of English Romanticism. The political revolt against traditional forms of authority was matched on a literary level by Blake’s revolt against reason and against the literary convention of the Augustan age.
Romantic poetry was about the individual in conflict with society which restricted individual freedom and personality. Where neoclassical poets dealt with other people, the Romantics wrote about themselves. They took a new interest in all those who remained outside society.
Nature acquired a new significance, it was no longer seen as an ornament, as a place of refuge from the cares of the town, but as man’s real home, from which he was exiled by the necessity to find work in the city. Nature was presented as “a living force”. The more remote and fearful aspects of nature appealed to artists as forces that could not be tamed and confined by social convention.
The revolt against political and social restraint was matched by a revolt against literary convention. The freedom from models and rules as regards poetic technique was another feature of Romantic Poetry.
Imagination was no longer seen as the ability to decorate a given reality, but as the power to see beyond the surface of things into their essential nature. Symbols and images were used as vehicles of the visionary perception.
The early Romantic period is characterised by a great optimism about man’s capacity to reach perfection, but the terrible end of the French Revolution gradually extinguished that optimism.
William Blake
William Blake was born in London in 1757and died in London in 1827.
He was an artist as well as a poet.
His origins were humble. He did not go to school but he was apprenticed to an engraver. He supported the French Revolution, a political freethinker and a radical. He witnessed the evil effects of the industrial development on man and he stated that the artist should be the guardian of the imagination.
He had a strong sense of religion. The Bible had a deep influence on his work. He married Catherine Boucher, she was illiterate and Blake taught her to read and write and to help him in printing his engravings. In 1787 Robert, his brother, died, however he continued to appear in vision and to dictate poems to him. Robert’s spirit also revealed to him a new printing process called “illuminated printing”, he employed for his original work.
The experience as a craftsman, a visionary and a radical contributed to the development of his poetry. Unknown or ridiculed in his lifetime, Blake is now considered the founder of the English Romanticism.
Blake’s early poems are collected in the Song of Innocence(1789) and Songs of Experience(1794). The poet offers contrasting pictures of innocence and experience ands gives an analysis of the human soul which is both innocent and corrupt. Lambs, flowers, children, all elements that deal with childhood, are the imagery of the Songs of Innocence. Blake’s privileged protagonist is the child through whose eyes we can see the world in its unity with the Divine.The Songs of Experience are more pessimistic. These poems introduce the meditation on the presence of evil side by side with good and beauty. Experience is identified with adulthood which coexist with childhood and completes it. The joy associated with the childlike vision of universe constitutes a state of innocence which men in their maturity are no longer able to conserve.
(The symbolic world of Songs of Innocence is that of the Bible and Christian pastoral while that of Songs of Experience is more personal. Many of the later poems serve to answer those of the earlier collection.)
The Songs of Innocence were created before the outbreak of the French Revolution when the poet was full of enthusiasm about the liberal ideals of the Revolution. He wrote the Songs of Experience after the disillusion caused by the fall of those ideals, during the period of the Terror.
Blake published also prophetic books. He created his own symbols to reflect his social interests and to denounce authority.
Blake’s poetry reacted against the values of the Enlightenment. He thought that imagination must take the place of reason with the help of poetry. He believed in the reality of a spiritual world. Nature is only the copy of a supra sensorial world.
According to Blake the Church was responsible for the dualism that characterises the human life. He opposed to this dualism, to this vision made up of contraries, a vision made up of “complimentary opposites”. For instance good and evil, male and female, cruelty and kindness, reason and imagination. According to Blake’s theory of the complementary opposites, these states coexist not only in the human being but also in the figure of the Creator who can be either the God of love and innocence or the God of energy and violence.
According to Blake man could be able to know the world through imagination, or the “Divine vision”. This means that through imagination man could be able to see more, to see beyond material reality. God, the poet and the child share this ability.
Blake finds in the heart of man good and evil, purity and corruption, innocence and experience, hell and heaven in an eternal unity of contrast and complementarity. They are never separated, they exist in an eternal opposition. Innocence and experience represent together the plenitude of man’s life. Without contraries there cannot be progress.
Blake was concerned with the political and social problems of his time. He supported the abolition of slavery and the egalitarian principles of the French Revolution. Blake believed that revolution was a necessary violence to purify the world and to redeem, to save man.
Disillusioned by the French Revolution he focused his attention on the consequences of the Industrial Revolution: the exploitation of human being, the materialistic attitudes.
Blake’s works are characterized by the presence of symbols. His central symbols were: the child representing innocence, the father representing experience, Christ representing a higher innocence.
It deals with childhood as the symbol of innocence. Childhood is connected with happiness, imagination and freedom..
The Lamb
The Tyger
The speaking voice is the poet who addresses to a lamb and wonders who created the animal.
The language is simple and musical. It conveys an idea of sweetness and tenderness.
The rhythm is slow and suits the meditative attitude of the poet.
The lamb is associates with the figure of Christ and that of a child.
The poet is able to share the innocence of the child and the divine power of the Creator.
The poem deals with the main theme of the Songs of Experience: the irresolvable contrast between good and evil, towards which men experiences an ambivalent feeling of fear and attraction.
The poet wonders if the same Creator made the lamb and the tiger.
The light, the fire that burns in the eyes of the tiger reflects the power of the Creator. In the tiger coexist beauty and fear, the tiger is beautiful and frightening at the same time.
The figure of the Creator good and generous in The Lamb appears in The Tiger powerful and frightening.
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, and what art, Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand? And 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 grasp? When the stars threw down their spears, And water'd heaven with their tears Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee? Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
La Tigre
Tigre! Tigre! Divampante fulgore Nelle foreste della notte, Quale fu l'immortale mano o l'occhio Ch'ebbe la forza di formare la tua agghiacciante simmetria? In quali abissi o in quali cieli Accese il fuoco dei tuoi occhi? Sopra quali ali osa slanciarsi? E quale mano afferra il fuoco? Quali spalle, quale arte Poté torcerti i tendini del cuore? E quando il tuo cuore ebbe il primo palpito, Quale tremenda mano? Quale tremendo piede? Quale mazza e quale catena? Il tuo cervello fu in quale fornace? E quale incudine? Quale morsa robusta osò serrarne i terrori funesti? Mentre gli astri perdevano le lance tirandole alla terra e il paradiso empivano di pianti? Fu nel sorriso che ebbe osservando compiuto il suo lavoro, Chi l'Agnello creò, creò anche te? Tigre! Tigre! Divampante fulgore Nelle foreste della notte, Quale mano, quale immortale spia Osa formare la tua agghiacciante simmetria?
In this poem Blake describes one of the first great cities of Europe at the time when the modern urban landscape was first appearing. During Blake’s life, England was transformed by the Industrial Revolution. The artist describes London as a city crowded with unemployed refugees from the countryside, devasted by poverty and disease and dominated by cynical commercial calculation.. infants, husbands, prostitutes (Harlots).
In the XIX century very young children were employed to clean the chimneys (camini).
They belonged to the poorest class of society.
They usually died very young either because they got severely ill or because sometimes they remained stuck inside the chimneys.
Their destiny was a public scandal but nobody seemed to take notice of them.
It seemed as people thought natural that these poor children should be compelled to lead a short and miserable life.
Blake denounces social injustice perpetrated against the weak, innocent, harmless people.
INTRODUCTION: William Blake was one of the most outstanding personalities in the history of English literature for the originality of his work, the universality of his symbolism, the variety of themes he dealt with and the modernity of his genius.
HIS POSITION IN THE LITERARY LANDSCAPE: It is difficult to classify Blake within a precise literary movement. He stood apart from his contemporaries for the originality of his literary performance but it is generally agreed that in many ways he was a forerunner of the Romantic movement and by his exaltation of spirit and imagination over reason he gave the final blow to the cold artificiality of the Age of Reason. Many critics have remarked that for his extraordinary and unconventional artistic creativity and his exaltation of art he can also be considered as an anticipator of the aesthetic movement.
CULTURAL FORMATION: Blake received very little formal education ; his only formation was an artistic one.
He spent his adolescence copying down the Gothic carvings and drawings of Westminster Abbey , whose allegorical and flowery decorations became a source of inspiration for his complex symbolism.
MYSTICISM: Unlike most of his contemporaries, Blake was deeply religious and one of the most extraordinary events which marked all his life were his mystic visions which earned him the reputation for being a lunatic.
He claimed he had seen and talked to God, the angels the Holy Virgin and to the soul of great men like Dante, Milton and Voltaire who dictated him his own literary works.
INNER LIGHT: These mystic visions played an important part in his literary and artistic work as he considered them as an “inner light” from which he drew inspiration.
According to him this “inner light “ was the device which allowed him to reach the truth This inner light was guided by Imagination (God himself) which he never gave up listening to and obeying throughout his life.
ROMANTIC FEATURES : Despite his mysticism and his visionary faculties Blake was a real man of his time , aware of the world in which he lived and deeply concerned with the social and political problems of his age.
Like most Romantics he was a rebel and found himself in opposition to all the prevailing values and beliefs of the time.
1) THE CONSERVATORISM OF THE MIDDLE CLASS which was creating prosperity on one side but dramatic consequences for the poor.He fought against OPPRESSION, SLAVERY AND EXPLOITATION.
Through his writings he sympathised with the oppressed working classes and exploited children. He loved FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY AND JUSTICE , He was against official institutions like Church and State and he supported the ideals of the French and American Revolutions and Women’s rights.
We can define him as a committed intellectual, involved in the main issues of his time whose denounces contributed to achieve social justice and reforms.
2) THE CONCEPT OF ART AS IMITATION to which he opposed the idea of Art as CREATIVE VISION.
He was the first among his contemporaries to show the way for a return to the SUPREMACY OF THE SPIRIT OVER REASON.
He also rebelled against the poetic conventions of the Augustan Age which had confined reading poetry to a restricted elite of people.
3) MATERIALISM AND RATIONALISM . In the name of Imagination he dismissed the Materialistic sciences dominated by reasons and their inspirators (Locke and Newton) and worked out a philosophy of his own which exalted :
4) ATHEISM AND DEISM : Blake was deeply religious but holding organised religion in low esteem, he reinterpreted religion in an unconventional way.
He claimed that God and men were not separated , on the contrary God was present in man as his own spiritual and creative power i.e. imagination which he called “divine”.
He believed in the Biblical Fall of Man which was not caused by the eating of the apple but occurred when REASON revolted against GOD i.e. against Imagination. The punishment inflicted by God to mankind was the the world of illusions in which we live, limited by physical senses and inhabited by people always fighting against one another.
To sum up, beside the complete rejection of the above mentioned ideals of his contemporaries, his romanticism emerged in his :-
- poetry meant as a vehicle accessible to everybody
- contemplation of nature and interest in children
- his interest in the Middle Ages and the Gothic
- his conception of imagination and art as a creative vision
- his democratic ideals and his social conscience
- the role of the poet as a seer and a prophet .
BLAKE’S CONCEPTION OF THE WORLD: Blake denied the existence of two worlds:the physical world in which we live and the metaphysical one.
According to him only one world exists: the world of Imagination and Vision which is eternal and is perfect harmony .The world in which we live( which is chaos ) is but a faint shadow of the world of Imagination which we can’t perceive because we are limited by our physical senses and by reason.He claimed however that everyone can perceive the world of Imagination in many different ways.
Only the ones endowed with the divine gift of Imagination can see beyond the illusionary visible world .And this faculty is peculiar TO POETS , TO CHILDREN AND TO MAN IN A STATE OF INNOCENCE.
THE ROLE OF THE POET: According to Blake , it’s the poet’s task and duty to show men how to see beyond the VISIBLE WORLD .
Therefore the poet becomes a seer and a prophet for mankind. His task is also to warn men against the evils they themselves are a source of.
SYMBOLISM: The device which allows the poet to portray the invisible world of imagination is SYMBOLISM.
Blake considered ordinary living things (such as animals for example) as symbols of greater and more powerful eternal values which can be described through a metaphorical language based on a system of myths and symbols. Only the poet-prophet is able to read and interpret these symbols.
Blake’s originality lies above all in the use of his unconventional symbolic imagery.
Blake translated his beliefs in his poetical works. His fame lies in his Songs of Innocence and Experience, a collection of short lyrical poems, written in a simple language and pattern but rich in symbols often open to many interpretations.
These poems (wonderfully engraved ) which should be appreciated mainly for their musicality, deal with the realities of the contemporary world and the potentiality of the spiritual world . In his poems, which are often companion poems, there is an alternation of portraits of the
worst aspect of society in contrast with visions of the eternal , perfect, spiritual world of Imagination.
Songs of Innocence and Experience
This collection is made up by two sets of poems illustrating , as Blake himself claimed two contrary but complementary states which coexist within the humans soul.
Each poem of the Songs of Innocence has got its own complementary poem in the Songs of Experience, i.e. they deal with the same theme seen from two opposing points of view. (e.g. The Lamb and The Tyger deal with the identity of the Creator.)
Innocence , far from being simply an age in the life of man, represents the ideal condition of the soul , characterised by love, generosity and spontaneity, (which is typical of childhood)but which may persist in the adult age too.
The new-born infants or the children who are the protagonists of the first set of songs, are therefore only symbols of that particular condition of man who despite his maturity still preserves a childlike view and lives in a state of innocence feeling therefore closer to God and able to perceive the eternal truth.
Experience,on the contrary represents that stage of adult life when men , tested by pain, sorrow ,evil and selfishness, lose their innocence and are incapable of spontaneity, generosity and love.
This condition however, despite its negative aspects, is necessary to man otherwise he wouldn’t be able to develop his vital energies.
The opposing but complementary states such as Good and Evil, Love and Hate, Purity and Corruption are necessary to human existence because:” Without contraries, Blake claimed , there is no progression”
Man has to accept the existence of Evil as the necessary counterpart of good
Introduction to Blake’s social commitment
Blake lived through the most dramatic years of the Industrial Revolution. He witnessed the growth of the industrial towns and the rapid advances of technology but he also saw the tragic effects of this change .
Industrialisation had made the nation far richer but for the mass of workers (included women and children)
industry meant low wages, long working hours and appalling living conditions.
In London and in the new industrial towns, thousands of people lived crowded together, in ugliness and dirt.
The most appalling aspect of this situation was the use of child labour.
Poor children were expected to learn simple tasks from the age of three and almost all would be working by the age of six and seven. It was hardly surprising they were in high demand : they were easy to discipline , they were cheap and their small size made them particularly suitable for working in mines and for chimney sweeping .
The chimney- sweeping business was especially profitable and widespread. Poor parents ,unable to feed their children ,hired or sold them to unscrupulous masters.
Their job implied climbing up tight chimneys, both domestic and industrial, clean them and collect the soot..
After a short time their elbows and knees had bleeding sores and the children soon developed lung disease. An enquiry carried out in 1798 revealed how few children survived to adulthood.
It took a long time before child labour began to be seen as shameful. Towards the end of the 18th century a group of social reformers , horrified by the suffering of these creatures, began campaigning to persuade Parliament to pass measures in order to protect them.
Blake was one of them but despite the campaigns of those who denounced this abuse, it was not until 1834 that a law was passed to regulate child labour.
Children, however, continued to be sent up chimneys until 1875, a hundred years after the publication of Blake’s poems of protest.
Blake’s love for justice and democracy led him to sympathise with the destitute and the oppressed
Like all the great Romantics, he was deeply involved in the political and social issues of his time. He supported the egalitarian claims of the French and American revolution and for most of his poetry he drew inspiration from the suffering and injustice he saw around him.
Poems like the Chimney Sweeper and London provide evidence of his sympathy for the poor and the oppressed.
Children in particular were adopted as symbols of cruel exploitation and hypocrisy of institutions.
In the poem The Chimney Sweeper the poet explicitly describes the miserable lives of “climbing boys” who were sold when they were very young, slept on their soot bags and and woke up in the middle of the night because chimneys had to be swept when cold. They walked along the streets crying “sweep, sweep, sweep”
The child of the poem is so little that he pronounces the street cry “weep” (i.e. cry) thus indirectly expressing the miserable situation of children sold into that business.
The speaking voice in the poem is a chimney sweeper who is trying to console his mates. Tom Dacre is in great distress as he had his curly hair shaved off. His words produce a soothing effect on the boy who falls asleep and has a dream.
The key point of the poem is Tom’s dream. Tom dreams of an angel who releases thousands of chimney sweepers “locked up in black coffins” (the sooty chimneys). When the children are set free, they run over green fields and play naked in the sun. The angel tells them if he is a good boy, God will look after him.
It is worth noticing the way Blake uses colours (black and white) to express feelings
Despite the appalling background , the poem preserves a light, joyous tone which contrasts with the sad reality of their going out together in the cold dark mornings.
Tom’s dream is a way to escape reality as dreams produce happiness , warmth and hope. In fact the following day Tom wakes up happy and warm
The final line sounds like a Christian message by the poet . He states that no one has anything to fear from God provided he or she is not guilty of involvement in such practices.
Evidence of his sympathy with the poor is also provided in the poem “LONDON” .
In Blake’s time London had a population of about 700.000 inhabitants which was a very high figure for the time. It had become a wealthy town dominated by commerce but a large part of its population lived in dreadful conditions in filthy and crowded slums.
London streets and the river Thames are no longer free. Traders are granted rights against the law. Everyone seems to be oppressed by the same restrictions which their minds have created. The metaphor of the “ forged manacles” suggests the idea that the non material manacles are as solid and real as iron chains and explains what makes London an awful city for Blake.
The repetition of the word ”marks” conveys the idea of the poet’s perception of the general misery and suffering of people.
The cry of a little chimney sweeper symbolises the indifference of an institution like the Church that neglects to protect and support the weak . The black front of the church conveys the idea of immorality: the Church has lost touch with the true and original religious spirit. The term “appals” could contain the pun on “pall” the black cloth covering a coffin at funerals.
The sigh of a soldier on guard outside the Palace is a remainder that Power is held with the blood of innocent people. The soldier’s sigh turns into blood running down the walls of the Palace.
The emotional tone of the poem becomes even more bitter and indignant in the final stanza.
In the streets at night, the young prostitute curses and damns her illegitimate baby who is crying. With her venereal disease she will infect the wealthy husbands who consort with her and will transform wedding coaches into funeral carriages.
The chimney sweeper, the soldier and the young prostitute are products of a repressive social system which inflicts suffering on its weaker members.
The young prostitute for instance was the victim of a society that did not provide her with employment opportunities for women of low social class. The institution of prostitution not only inflicted a life of degradation on many young women but resulted in illegitimate children and the spread of venereal disease.
Once again his poem sounds as a warning against the evils men themselves are a source of..
The Lamb, as well as the other companion poem The Tiger, at a first superficial reading, sounds as a childish poem which recalls the simple musical language and rhythms of nursery rhymes.
The poem sounds as a dialogue between the poet (or an imaginary child) and a lamb.
The poet addresses a little lamb and through questions asks him about the identity of its creator.
Through the use of questions, he presents the various actions involved in the creation. He wants to know who gave him life, who set him in a safe natural environment, who taught him how to feed, who provided him with a woolly and soft fleece and a tender voice which fills the valleys around with joyful sounds.
All these positive elements convey the idea of a generous, tender and loving being who protects his creatures.
Stanza two contains the answer to the poet’s questions.
Unlike the previous lines, the ones which reveal the identity of the Creator are somewhat obscure and require a deeper interpretation.
The identity of the Creator is given at lines 13-14-15 through a parallelism : He, i.e. the Creator, is called and calls himself a Lamb and he became a little child .
The Creator, according to the Bible, from which Blake often drew inspiration, is obviously Jesus Christ who is often referred to as Agnus Dei or Lamb of God who came on the Earth among men and by being good and generous taught them to be good.
The choice of the lamb as a symbol emphasises God’s gentle nature.
In the following line the poet establishes another order of identification.
In line 17, Blake focuses on himself. He claims he is a child too, innocent and pure as a lamb.Children, according to Blake, are innocent and unspoilt and they are gifted with Imagination, the divine creative power.
Moreover, at line 18 he presents a further identification between himself , the lamb and the Creator. The possible interpretation might be that when the poet or the artist creates, his work parallels that of God in the act of creation.
In conclusion, what at a superficial level may appear as a poem about a real animal set in its natural setting, actually holds a deeper symbolic meaning.
The lamb in Blake’s poem is not simply an animal but the symbol of perfect innocence and purity The idyllic world in which he lives can be compared to the world of Imagination, a bright world of happiness and freedom.
The harmony which reigns in this world is the same which exists between a loving creator and his creatures.In conclusion, the lamb, the poet and the child all partake of the nature of God.
The language of the poem is simple, almost naive . The several repetitions reproduce the children’s speech
The poem is made up of two stanzas of ten lines each.
The metre is regular (each line has four feet, seven syllables with four stresses.)
The rhyme scheme is AA BB CC.
Linguistic devices: There is a wide use of alliteration assonance,repetitions . These devices together with repetitions give the poem musicality and stress key-words.

The Tyger belongs to the Songs of Experience and is certainly Blake’s most popular poem ,appreciated mainly for its hammering rhythm and its use of imagery.
The Tyger is the companion poem of the Lamb and this is conveyed by many similarities:
- Both the poems deal with the theme of the creation and with the identity of the creator.

- They address an animal directly
- They both have a question in Stanza one
They differ for the following elements:
- First of all the subject matter; whereas the lamb
represents perfect innocence, the tiger symbolises
the evil which comes from the worldly experience.
- Unlike The Lamb, in the Tyger no answer to the
questions is provided.
- the imagery and the symbolism of the Tyger are
more complex.
- The tone of candid innocence is replaced by a
tone of wonder and urgency
- The Tyger is less repetitive.
The most striking feature of the poem is the large number of questions (15) addressed to the Tyger about the identity of its creator.
The questions are formulated in such a way as to describe the animal and to suggest what the Creator might be.
At a surface level the animal evoked is beautiful, terrifying , full of vital energy i.e. the archetype of a wild animal symbolising evil and strength.Yet, this surface interpretation does not allow us to answer the poet’s question: How is it possible that the evil and fearful tiger has been created by the same hand who created the Lamb, symbol of innocence and loving tenderness ?
The poem, as for most of Blake’s poetry, hides a more complex interpretation which requires a deeper level of reading.
A possible interpretation is based on the analysis of each word in relation to the others.
For instance the term “burning” may evoke rage and violence but the addition of “bright” provides it with a positive connotation which conveys the idea of the light of the genius which overcomes error and ignorance represented by the forests of the night ( an idea which recalls Dante’s Selva oscura).
And the same can be said for “fearful symmetry”. “Fearful” is an example of concentrated negative energy, whereas “symmetry” is always applied to harmonious beauty.
The term “fire” which occurs twice is never negative but stands for energy and life.
As a consequence ,considering all these contradictory elements, the tiger becomes a symbol which concentrates in itself two contraries. It is both a violent terrifying creature and at the same time it is beautiful, harmonious, intelligent and vital.
Once again Blake’s principle of opposing but complementary states, is the key to understanding the poem and can be applied to the Creator as well. The Maker evoked in the poem conveys the idea of a powerful, fearless ,skilful blacksmith at work in his forge. He is no longer the loving Father portrayed in the Lamb but a strict Creator. As a consequence God, as any other living thing, concentrates in himself two contrasting aspects and can create Good as well as Evil. What is fundamental to stress, however is that the tyger is not the negation of the Lamb but its necessary counterpart. Evil, in Blake’s view of life, is an essential part of the creation.
Stanza 5. These rather obscure lines might express the following concept: When God created the Tiger, symbol of evil and rage, the stars , symbols of reason and order, fell down like tears as if they had been defeated.The image of the falling stars compared to spears and tears which water the heaven,conveys Blake’s extraordinary power in creating poetic imagery.

6 quatrains with a hammering, fast rhythm The rhyme scheme is AA BB CC (only two imperfect rhymes at ll.3 and 4 and 23/24)
Metre: lines of 7 syllables and four stresses.
Words are short and there is a wide use of alliteration ,repetitions and assonance which give the poem its peculiar hammering rhythm.



  1. federica

    sto cercando l'analisi della poesia di Blake "The smile"per la tesina di maturità

  2. agnese

    sto cercando l'analisi della poesia di Blake "The smile"per la tesina di maturità

  3. paola

    sto cercando l'analisi della poesia di Blake "The smile"per la tesina di maturità