Lamb & Tyger – Innocence & Experience

I caught a reference to William Blake‘s “The Tyger” in, of all things, a graphic novel I was reading. I recognized it, having read it a long time ago, and recalled it’s elegant way of contrasting the beauty and the ferocity of the animal. I wanted to read the whole thing and learn a little more. Discovered that the poem was in a collection of poems intended to be song lyrics, called Songs of Experience. A previous poetry collection of Blake’s was the Songs of Innocence and contained the sister poem “The Lamb“.

A theme in much of Blake’s work was his philosophy of “contraries”: The belief that the struggle of humanity is based on the concept of the contrary nature of things, and thus, to achieve truth one must see the contraries in innocence and experience. I like the idea and to keep it in my mind and more easily “see” the contrast I decided to list both poems and his original plates here, side by side.

The Lamb by William Blake
“The Lamb” from
Songs of Innocence (1789)

by William Blake  Little lamb, who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, 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 callèd by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are callèd by His name.
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Little lamb, God bless thee!
The Tyger by William Blake
“The Tyger” from
Songs of Experience (1799)

by William BlakeTyger 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!

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?

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