“Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate are necessary to human existence
Those words belong to one of the greatest artists and poets of the Pre-Romantic age whose paintings and words fascinated many generations and still continue to enchant us: William Blake.
One of his most known and relevant work is the collection “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” which contains two of his most famous poems: “The Lamb” (innocence) and “The Tyger” (experience). They show “contrary states” not only because they deal with two antithetic images, but also because they are written with different styles adapted to the different subjects.
“The Lamb” exalts purity and innocence: it describes a meek and sweet animal, with a tender voice and a soft, bright wool that rejoices everyone. An important aspect that poem proposes is a peculiar vision of God: God is a benevolent figure; he is generous, and he is the creator of the lamb. God (in the person of Jesus Christ) is a lamb himself; he calls himself a lamb and becomes human: he is the Gospel’s God. Another key-image featured in the poem is the one of the child. He, along with the lamb, represents innocence and harmlessness. The child is the symbol of the power of imagination, he is unspoilt by society and this places him near God and the source of creation.
All the ideas presented in the poem are emphasized by the use of a simple syntax, a plain and naïve vocabulary and sound devices typical of children’s songs.
On the other hand, “The Tyger” describes a ferocious and cruel animal: the tiger. The tiger is a mysterious, dreadful creature, it has got eyes of fire and symbolizes corruption and cruelty and yet it is beautiful and symmetrical. The poet cannot understand how God created it and why: this animal is so evil and twisted that it could belong to hell. The God represented in poem resembles the merciless God of the Old Testament. He is a skilful blacksmith whose work transcends human understanding.
The text is full of words referring to the art of metal shaping (hammer, chain, furnace, anvil) and contains references to the Greek myths of Icarus and Prometheus. It is also important to mention that God’s strength and ruthlessness are reinforced by the reference to the war against rebellious angels.
The two poems are also set in two different locations: “The Lamb” describes vales and meads, connected to the ideas of joy and happiness, while in “The Tyger” is said that the tiger is in “the forest of the night” and this gives the reader a sense of mystery and inquietude.
“The Lamb” and “The Tyger” represent two opposites: good and evil, kindness and cruelty, childhood and adulthood; but, as the poet remembered in the poem “The Tyger”, the two coexist, they complete each other and were created by the same God.
Blake explores one of the deepest and ancient questions of all humanity: “Why does evil exists? How can good and evil co-exist? Why does God allow the presence of evil?”. Everyone, at least once during his life, must have questioned himself, and certainly must have found himself unable to find an answer.
The poet offers us a new prospective on the subject: we live in a complex world where there’s evil as well as good and we must accept it without trying to change anything. Blake refuses the dualism and the fragmentation of consciousness and sees the opposites as complementary; they cooperate and happen simultaneously.
The possibility of progress lies in the tension between opposites. This is a part of Blake’s ideology that should make people reflect on how we perceive good and evil and I hope that this brief glance at his poetry and his way of thinking may have inspired the reader to find out more about this amazing artist and poet.