Who Doesn’t Love Animals?

I’ve noticed that in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, he uses a variety of animals in both his poems and illustrations. A few of these that caught my eye were the lamb, the tiger, lion, and fly (specifically in Songs of Experience). I begin to wonder why these few were chosen for their own composition and what their significance could possibly be, if any at all.

The Lamb

It is very common to find lambs symbolizing a childish state of nature, whether they be in fables or in Blake’s compositions. The first mention of the lamb is found in the eighth plate of Songs of Innocence, titled,”The Lamb” (Big surprise, right? ha..haa). The poem starts off with questioning how the lamb has come to be and who has created it. Interestingly enough, in Songs of Experience, “The Tyger”, the same question of who the identity of the creator belongs to, appears again (but more on that later). “I a child and thou a lamb” (line 17). The speaker here is clearly not Blake, but rather the child on the plate. The child asks questions out of curiosity only to answer them in response. Because both child and lamb are present in the composition of “The Lamb”, it is safe to say that both the lamb and child represent innocence, as seen with the description of both of them to be “meek” and “mild” on line 5.

In “The CLOD & the PEBBLE”, there is no mention of the lamb in text, but the image shows a variety of animals. There are frogs, ducks, cattle, and the lambs which have grown older into large sheep. So what is their significance in this piece? Well,the most obvious statement one could make is that they demonstrate maturity…or as Geoffrey Keynes interprets it as “selfish love” (144) where the sheep are not as “innocent” as they once had been as a lamb. But as Professor Mota mentioned in lecture, Blake’s pieces are not meant to be interpreted as polar opposites or to be solely one interpretation alone. The sheep’s placement in “The CLOD & the PEBBLE” (Songs of Experience) compared to the lambs in Songs of Innocence do suggest some sort of transition from childhood to adulthood, but this does not necessarily mean the sheep (or anybody who goes through this transition) completely lose their innocence. The end of the first stanza reads, “Hell in Heavens” (line 12) and the end of the poem reads the opposite, “Heaven in Hells” (line 14). Perhaps this suggests experience and innocence are in one another alike and a lack of influence from both of these would result in an inability to mature as wholesome adults like the sheep.

The Fly

This is a common parasite we’ve all had to deal with one time or another. The insect’s life-span is short and so it is ironic that flies are most commonly used to represent death. In the fortieth plate, “THE FLY”, the speaker is Blake. He compares himself to the fly in which it is happy in the short time that it it alive. It is as if to say, adults must come to the realization that death is inevitable. In doing so, they may find themselves to be able to live as freely as the fly does and without care of judgment.

The Tiger

Right off the bat, the forty-first plate is deliberately titled “The Tyger”.  I’m not sure sure why “Tyger” is spelt with a “y” instead of an “i”, however, Blake also did not give the image of the tiger as many stripes as it should have. Unlike “The Lamb”, questions made about the tiger’s existence are never answered. Perhaps the absence of such details are the reasons why Blake has included this beast as a part of Songs of Experience. It is perhaps a statement about this feline’s raw strength and size in nature that is perfectly stunning and at the same time, perfectly destructive.

The Lions

Lions are majestic and symbolize courage and monarchy.  In “The Little Girl Found”, the lion is described with features such as a “heavy mane”, “golden hair”, and has a “crown”. There appears to be a mutual relationship between the lions and the “tygers” as they coexist within the lion’s cave. Blake may have decided to use both the tiger and lion as symbols of strength and pride as they are both capable hunters in the wild. Or perhaps he means to convey the importance of having confidence in one’s identity to live in prosperity. For example,when a child transforms into an adult without a solid understanding of who they are, they may become wild and uncontrollable like a hungry tiger or lion. On the other hand, if one is self-aware, one will not be influenced by the world they interact with. Instead, one can learn to become a strong and confident figure in their community and lead a “pride” of their own such as the lion and his pride of both tigers and lions.



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