I believe that William Blake was a religious seeker and a fantastic artist whom was known for not only his literary work, but also his artistic skills. This can be best seen in his poems like “the Lamb” and “the Tyger” that are riddled with religious connotations. In Blake’s poem the Lamb the speaker answers his own question: “I know who made you.” If you have any sort of upbringing or are familiar with the Christian faith you know that Jesus is the Creator of all things. So the answer of who the maker is, it is the Lord God, Jesus Christ, who also has been known by the name of “the Lamb”, i.e. “Agnus Dei” or “Lamb of God”. At several points in the New Testament, Jesus is called a lamb which is historically very symbolic in the Jewish culture, in John 1:29, John the Baptist, upon seeing Jesus, proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The lamb metaphor returns in Revelation 9-12 “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God. from every tribe and language and people and nation, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Revelation 13:8 “And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” The Shephard’ poem also spreads a similar message emphasizing the love of God.
The imagery of shepherd and sheep is used throughout scripture to describe a relationship between God and those that follow Him. One verse i think would tie into that point very well is when Jesus says to Simon Peter ‘Feed my sheep.’ another verse that came up while typing this is when Jesus says ‘My sheep know my voice.’in John 10:27. In Blake’s poem “the Tyger” He goes in a completely different direction and gives a vague resemblance and allusion to Satan. Blake uses words like steel, fire, and chains. The Lamb is definitely a more light hearted by comparison. The word ‘meek’ in the second stanza recalls Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth” (Matthew 5:5). In the first stanza on the first and second line “Little Lamb who made thee” “Dost thou know who made thee” is actually a really common question that we still wrestle with today. A universal question is who made us? I believe personally and in upholding to my own Christian beliefs that God made humans and the earth and everything that we see (and some things that we don’t see) was created by Him. Eventually this poem reassures this question with the answer that in fact, “We are called by his name. Little Lamb God bless thee. Little Lamb God bless thee.” I believe that this poem is very simple to read and digest and is beautiful in symbolizing the innocence of a child realizing that God made them, or at least that is what I got from reading this. This poem is actually very straightforward in its approach and is written in a trochaic meter in rhythm, almost like a nursery rhyme, crossed with a riddle, crossed with a religious catechism. I think that this poem is timeless and is helped by the traits I echoed in the previous sentence. The poem makes its meaning by finally answering the question of who exactly made the sheep. The Lamb’ bears many similarities with Charles Wesley’s old hymn beginning with ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,’ from Hymns for Children, Blake actually borrows the ‘meek and mild’ line and mimics this hymn’s simple AABB rhyme scheme. These two stylistic points are common to many hymns.
A lot of Blake’s writings center on a religious context and you can see it in the way he writes and in the context of his poetry. Little Lamb is understood as being used as alliteration which is common throughout almost each line in the two stanza poem. This makes it easy for not only children, but, also adults that may be illiterate or mentally disabled to be able to enjoy at face value without having to critically think about the analysis of the poem. This is proof that sometimes poetry does not have to be something you overthink, but simply enjoy and maybe recite to your children, grandchildren, or students throughout many different grade levels and moments of life.
One thing that also separates Blake’s Work from others is the fact that he was also an artist. You can see his artwork and painting abilities in this collection known as Songs of Innocence and Experience. When Blake was a child reported that he had visions of angels and of monarchs that have passed away. Yes poem garden of love could be drawing on those experiences he has a child and he would see these anomalies in different places, one of those being a garden. I think it would be helpful to further understand this by taking a look at the poem itself.
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.
One way that this poem can be interpreted is when a child is young they have a vibrant imagination and look to maintain memories of good things and this can even be the case with having a connection between a place with a memory attached to it. Seeing that a chapel is over the place where he played it as a child makes him sad because now his memory has became a bit faded due to the fact that he has been covered up. The phrase “Thou shalt not” has a negative connotation morally in his head. This is further exasperated by the presence of priests.
The last two lines sum up what Blake saw as threat and feared losing an innate innocence that we all have and the creativity that goes along with it that really makes a child innocent but also perplexing and unique. Blake was born in 1757 and was in the midst of unrest politically and in some forms religiously mostly because of the ever changing beliefs between Protestants and Catholics.
Many of these songs are marked by this political radicalism that Blake was familiar with, but this work of his also bears the hallmarks of the Romantic movement in poetry. In his poem The Human Abstract Blake analyzes the four virtues of traditional Christianity those being peace, mercy, pity, and love. One commentary I found online said this about the piece, “This poem asserts that the traditional Christian virtues of mercy and pity presuppose a world of poverty and human suffering. By implication, if this is humankind’s understanding of God, then he, too, seems to desire or accept such poverty and suffering.” This can be seen as an almost attack on those that like to experience these things, but yet do not follow up with some of the after affects that generally happen if one is sincere. Blake is very adamant that these people are trying to deceive themselves into thinking that they can do good and just be totally fine and high and mighty after. This is actually one of the things that split up the Protestant Reformers from the Catholic Church, because when it came to tithing the Catholic Church would ask for pendants I believe is the right word, in order to get the soul of a family member or loved one out of purgatory. This was something that Blake opposed fervently and actually suggested that the people who have created a social order or hierarchy have created a “God” that they are comfortable with and so with humans being fallen creatures prone to sin have created a divided selfhood. Blake also echoes the Apostle Paul when he says in Philippians 3:8-10 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Then again in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” Blake held that humility meant to believe in yourself as nothing, just a speck of dust in comparison to God.
Blake was actually very underrated and under appreciated in his life as an artist and writer, it was not until his death that people started to appreciate how genius and creative he actually was! The Literary Chronicle, described him as ‘one of those ingenious persons … whose eccentricities were still more remarkable than their professional abilities.’ It actually was very common in many literary movements that writers and artists or really any person with skill and a creative mindset did not ever see the fame they would acquire posthumously. Blake was no different in this case because no one really knew who he was besides just another guy who could do some really cool stuff. That is actually really sad when you think about it, because it shows that many people are too preoccupied or ignorant that it overshadows the big accomplishments that one would celebrate in life, Blake and many other creative minds like him most likely had to celebrate small victories like getting published or having someone accept the request to look at their work to small fan fare or even just themselves. I believe this is significant to note because there are so many people who deal with that same dilemma today because they don’t fit a cultural or societal mold.
One thing about Blake’s life growing up was that his parents were always supportive of him and helped try to improve what talent he did have. At the age of ten, Blake expressed he wanted to become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake began writing poetry. Two years after that at the age of fourteen he started an apprenticeship with an engraver. It was after this and probably a lot of trial and error later that Blake started creating that literary works we still enjoy to this day!
- “Textual History.” It.info, crossref-it.info/textguide/songs-of-innocence-and-experience/13/1457.
- “William Blake .” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, poets.org/poet/william-blake.
- SparkNotes, SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/poetry/blake/section8/.
- “William Blake.” Biography , Google, Dec. 202AD, www.google.com/amp/s/www.biography.com/.amp/writer/william-blake.
- Tearle , Oliver. A Short Analysis of William Blake’s ‘The Lamb’. 16 Oct. 2020, interestingliterature.com/2017/07/a-short-analysis-of-william-blakes-the-lamb/.