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Little lamb
Little lamb on a Derbyshire hllside

William Blake: 'The Lamb' and 'The Tyger'

Literary connections in Songs of Innocence and Experience - or:
Without Contraries is no progression - Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The text of Blake's poems here has been based on the original plates, rather than modern versions, which often add punctuation marks for the sake of clarity and consistency. Blake was not so pedantic.
The Lamb
  Little Lamb who made thee
  Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly 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 called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
  Little Lamb God bless thee,
  Little Lamb God bless thee.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild
It's interesting to compare this poem with the kinds of hymns that many children and adults would be familiar with at the time, such as Charles Wesley's "Hymn LXIX," "Hymns for the Youngest" in his Hymns for Children, 1763:
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee:

Fain I would to Thee be brought,
Dearest God, forbid it not:
Give me, dearest God, a place,
In the kingdom of thy grace.

Put thy hands upon my head,
Let me in thine arms be stayed,
Let me lean upon thy breast,
Lull me, lull me, Lord to rest.


Part the Second
Lamb of God, I look to Thee,
Thou shalt my example be,
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild,
Thou wast once a little child.

Fain I would be as Thou art,
Give me thy obedient heart;
Thou art pitiful and kind,
Let me have thy loving mind.

Meek, and lowly may I be,
Thou art all humility;
Let me to my betters bow,
Subject to thy parents Thou.

Let me above all fulfil
God my heavenly Father's will,
Never his good Spirit grieve,
Only to his glory live.

Thou didst live to God alone,
Thou didst never seek thine own,
Thou thyself didst never please,
God was all thy happiness.

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In thy gracious hands I am,
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art,
Live thyself within my heart.

I shall then shew forth thy praise,
Serve thee all my happy days,
Then the world shall always see
Christ, the holy child in me.

The Tyger
The obvious companion piece to this is Blake's poem on the tiger - he makes an explicit link in the penultimate stanza.

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 sieze 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?

  • Judy Cox's book William Blake: The Scourge of Tyrants (Redwords) has some interesting things to say about the links between this poem and the revolutionary atmosphere of the times: 'Blake uses the imagery of the Bible, of Rousseau's noble savage, but above all of the French Revolution.'

  • There is a helpful discussion in the 'Approaches' section of Richard Willmott's edition of Songs of Innocence and of Experience (Oxford).

  • Deadly terrors: there's a useful summary of how the hopes and ideals of the French Revolution turned into the horrors of the Terror in Let them eat dirt, Adam Thorpe's review in The Guardian of David Andress's The Terror, 'a gripping account of the years that followed the French revolution'. The book itself sounds fascinating but be aware that it's 437 pages long.

  • Finally, there are an interesting couple of essays on Keith Sagar's website - see the bottom of the page.


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