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William Blake wrote a once well-known poem “The Tyger” in 1794, as part of a cycle called “Songs of Experience”. The fifth stanza reads:
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?
Blake also wrote the “Songs of Innocence” in 1789 which was meant to be put in contrast with “Songs of Experience”. Another poem “The Lamb”, is often identified as the main point of contrast between the two poetic cycles. The Lamb refers not merely to Christ who is called “The Lamb of God”, but to the vulnerable creature that a lamb symbolizes. From the first stanza:
Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright . . .
In our day, when we live in a more cynical and even jaded world, the contrast between tiger and lamb is not so shocking. It is a mere fact of life.
In some way William Blake is contemplating the stark differences within Creation, and God’s relationship with Creation. The same Divine Hand, shaped both the mild lamb and the fearsome tiger. What does this tell you about that Divine Hand? It tells us, at least, that there is both vulnerability and strength in God and this why both are revealed in Creation.
I find it interesting to note that in Christian symbolism, Christ is also a lion. (Aslan of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” falls squarely within this symbolic tradition.) William Blake, for his part, however, wishing it seems to make the contrast between weakness and strength starker, speaks of the tiger. The tiger is “strength”, is “fire” and cannot easily be overcome. No one would wander through the jungle of Sumatra as though down at the beach!
As one reads the way Blake describes the “tyger”, one feels a degree of threat, of danger. The seeming contradiction in the idea that the same hand can create meekness and mildness as well as threatening physical strength is underlined by the juxtaposition of the lamb. And yet this is what we have.
We all experience moments of vulnerability and strength. We also see that there is both great beauty and danger in the world. We do not, however, often think that both these characteristics are God’s. It is easy to understand how God can be strong and even the Source of beauty, but not so easy to see God as vulnerable.
When we seek to enter a relationship with someone, for it to be real, we must be open and sincere. We become vulnerable. In revealing Himself through Creation, God is open and sincere.
We see the great variety of life, but also “weak points” where uncontrolled things can cause confusion and grief for everyone. Here God speaks to us “as a friend”. (Ex. 33:11; Isa. 41:8)