I was organizing files last week and ran across an interesting drawing done by a student in a Survey of English Literature course. The assignment was to artistically interpret two of William Blake’s poems (companion pieces from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience). Students could use any medium, and they were assured of full credit regardless of skill level. I was more interested in their effort and their enjoyment. I imagine I was a little confused when I first saw the sketch below:
This piece is based on “The Lamb” from Songs of Innocence and “The Tyger” from Songs of Experience–poems that speak of two different aspects of the God of Creation and that lead readers to the realization that the God who crafted the innocent lamb is also the God who put the fire in the tiger’s eye, and that this same God embodies those meek and fierce attributes Himself.
But…um…that’s a lion, not a “tiger.”
Charmaine was cute, though. She added a note to the back of the drawing labeled “artistic license.” Her explanation is that this still represents a visual interpretation of the “contrary” poems since Jesus is both lion and lamb–animals obviously perceived as having very different characteristics. And indeed, she is correct. Jesus is described as the Lion of Judah and the [Sacrificial] Lamb.
I ran into Charmaine a couple of days ago and let her know that I rediscovered her drawing. We both laughed because it was after she drew the lion that she realized it should have been a tiger. While she got the drawing “wrong,” she was accurate in visualizing what Blake would have questioned as contrary conceptualizations of God. He is not one or the other, but both at the same time, and thus (perhaps) something other.
The assignment was inspired by Blake’s own illustrated works. I wanted students to do more than read the poems and look at the pretty images. I wanted them to deeply connect with Blake’s works. Sometimes that connection comes not through written critique or analysis but through creative work. They have to understand the work(s) enough to render an honest visual interpretation.
Here are Blake’s own images of the two poems:
Enjoy and have a happy week!