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Through Interpretation of Poetic Sound
Classical, Early European, Eastern and Modern poetry share structural similarities in their use of rhythm, meter and rhyme; however, sound plays a more subtle role for purposes of interpretation. Poets combine structured rhythmic patterns and the formal arrangement of words with devices such as alliteration to create images in the reader’s mind. Two contrasting poems written by William Blake titled “The Lamb” from Songs of Innocence (1789) and “The Tyger” from Songs of Experience (1794), effectively illustrate how the fundamental use of poetic structure, selective alliteration and imagery, accentuates the underlying sounds of a poem; thereby, enabling the reader to better understand the voice or tone being portrayed by the speaker.
In Blake’s opening lines of “The Lamb,” the speaker sets the initial tone for the conversation that takes place between the child and the gentle creature; “Little Lamb, who made thee/Dost thou know who made thee” (Blake 1-2). As evidenced by the speaker’s selective use of diction, the soft and non-threatening nature of the words establishes an atmosphere of child-like innocence and wonder that echoes throughout the remainder of the work. As the conversation progresses, the setting is established through the use of the words “stream” and “mead” (Blake 4), which is intended to suggest that the conversation is taking place outside, in a peaceful meadow. In subsequent lines of the poem, the child poses a series of softly worded phrases such as “Gave thee clothing of delight/Softest clothing wooly bright” (Blake 5-6). Although not initially obvious to the reader, through the selective use of alliteration, the speaker has effectively introduced the characteristics and subtle rhythmic sound that is consistent with that of a childhood nursery rhyme. The speaker’s melodious combination of repetition, diction and rhyme is further reinforced in the final two lines of the last stanza, “Little Lamb God bless thee/Little Lamb God bless thee” (Blake 19-20), which symbolically culminates in the child’s belief that the miracle of creation resides in God himself.
There is a stark contrast between the opening lines of “The Lamb” and the opening lines of Blake’s companion poem “The Tyger.” In “The Tyger,” the speaker immediately establishes a very different setting for the conversation that takes place between the child and the fearsome beast; “Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright/In the forests of the night” (Blake 1-2). Unlike the peaceful setting of “The Lamb,” the image created in the reader’s mind through the selective use of words like “burning,” “forests,” and “night,” suggests that the conversation is taking place in an environment of uncertainty and darkness.
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Blake’s poems “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” share many parallels in structure and echo the common theme of creation; however, a careful analysis of diction reveals sharp contrasts in their respective presentations. The fundamental use of poetic structure, selective alliteration and imagery, accentuates the underlying sounds of the works; thereby, facilitating reader interpretation, which promotes enhanced understanding of the intended voice being portrayed by the speaker.
Blake, William. “The Lamb.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, 5th ed. Eds. Laurie Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Heinle, 2004. 1159-60.
Blake, William. “The Tyger.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, 5th ed. Eds. Laurie Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Heinle, 2004. 1160-61.