The use of symbols is one of the most striking features of Blake’s poetry. There is hardly any poem written by Blake, which does not possess a symbolic meaning, besides its apparent or surface meaning. Though most of his poems are written in simple language, the fact does not deprive them of a deep meaning. However in order to understand Blake’s poetry at a deeper level, we have to know something about the symbols, which he makes use of. A.C.BAUGH has remarked , “The mystic movement of his mind required metaphor; he saw not likeness but the glory and terror of God as manifested in His creation, but ended as a symbolist with Yeats and Eliot. Critics have classified the principal symbols which are used by William Blake as innocence symbols, energy symbols, sexual symbols, corruption symbols, oppression symbols and so on. Blake uses a group of related symbols to form a dominant symbolic pattern in which the child, the father and Christ represent the states of innocence, experience and a higher innocence. Blake is a highly symbolic poet and his poetry is rich in symbols and allusions. Almost each and every other word in his poems is symbolic. A symbol is an object which stands for something else as dove symbolizes peace. Similarly, Blake’s tiger symbolizes creative energy; Shelley’s wind symbolizes inspiration; Ted Hughes’s Hawk symbolizes terrible destructiveness at the heart of nature. Blake’s symbols usually have a wide range of meaning and more obvious. Few critics would now wish to call Blake a symbolist poet, since his handling of symbols is markedly different from that of the French symbolistes’, but the world inhabited by his mythical figures is defined through quasi-allegorical images of complex significance, and such images are no less important in his lyrical poetry. The language of these poems is like that of the Bible—at once simple and profound as the following lines read: “O Rose, thou art sick!”
When Blake talks of the sick rose, he is really telling us how mysterious evil attacks the soul. Flower-symbolism is of particular importance in Songs of Innocence and Experience, being connected with the Fall by the motif of the garden; and its traditional links with sexuality inform the text of ‘The Blossom’ and the design for ‘Infant Joy’, which are taken up in Experience by the plate for ‘The Sick Rose’. ‘Ah! Sun-Flower’ is a more symbolic text, and has evoked a greater variety of responses. Declaring this to be one of ‘Blake’s supreme poems’, we can interpret the flower as a man who ‘is bound to the flesh’ but ‘yearns after the liberty of Eternity”. Harper claims that it describes the aspiration of all ‘natural things’ to ‘the sun’s eternality’. Identifying the speaker as ‘Blake himself. Blake travels from flower-symbolism to animal symbols as in the ‘Tyger’: “Did he smile his work to see
Did he who made the Lamb make thee!”
If the lamb symbolizes innocence and gentleness, the tiger is to Blake a symbol of the violent and terrifying forces within the individual man. The lamb, innocent and pretty, seems the work of a kindly Creator. The splendid but terrifying tiger makes us realize that God’s purposes are not so easily understood, and that is why the question arises “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” At the same time, the tiger is symbolic of the Creator’s masterly skill which enabled Him to frame the “fearful symmetry” of the tiger. But the lion described in the poem Night (in the “Songs of Innocence”) offers an interesting contrary to the tiger of the “Songs of Experience”. Both the beasts seem dreadful, but the lion, like the beast of the fairy tale, can be magically transformed into a good and gentle creature: the tiger cannot. In the world of Experience the violent and destructive elements in Creation must be faced and accepted, and even admired. The tiger is also symbolic of the Energy and the Imagination of man, as opposed to the Reason. Blake was a great believer in natural impulses and...