A symbol is an object, animate or inanimate, which stands for something else. The use of symbols is one of the most striking features of Blake’s poetry. There is hardly any poem in the Songs of Innocence and of Experience which does not possess a symbolic meaning besides its surface meaning. What Blake describes are not actual events as ordinary men see and understand them, but spiritual event which have to be stated symbolically in order that they may be intelligible.
Introduction to the Songs of Innocence is an important symbolic poem. While wandering through the valleys the poet in his vision saw a mystic child on a cloud. The child bears great significance. (i) The child may refer to Jesus Christ who speaks from a cloud i.e., from heaven. (ii) It may signify an angel representing innocence. (iii) It may be the symbol of the spirit of pastoral poetry. (v) It may be a symbol of poetic inspiration. The child was a visionary whose ideas came to the poet in the form of clearly visualized encounters with angels, prophets or other symbolic characters. The valleys wild stands for the pagan stage of the poet from where he has a spiritual transition to the stage of Christianity. The clear water used to make ink is a symbol of purity.
In the poem The Lamb the child, the lamb and God or Christ are brought to unite to from a single divine entity. In the poem the poet visualizes the divine qualities of the child and the lamb and unifies them with Jesus Christ. It is innocence which connects these three figures. Christ is called a lamb because of his meekness and mildness. He was also a child when he first appeared on this earth as the Son of God. The harmlessness of the lamb and the purity of the heart of a child are the manifestation of Christs innocence. Thus the gentleness, meekness and mildness are the qualities of both the child, the lamb and Christ which link them together.
The Tyger is one of Blake’s most significant symbolic poems. Blake spelling of Tyger is worth nothing for it seems to emphasize the symbolic quality of the animal. The tiger symbolizes the fierce forces in the soul, which are needed to break the bonds of experience. For some the tiger with its fearful symmetry stands for the pervasive evil in the world; for others, the tiger symbolizes an awful beauty in creation; and for still others the tiger is a symbol of praise for the creation of the universe. The forests of the night in which the tiger lurks is the world of Experience, where the many sterile error conceal the path and dim the light.
In the poem London symbols of oppression and tyranny are manifested through the king who is responsible for the soldier’s blood being shed, social institutions like loveless marriage and mind-forged manacles. In the poem, the poet notices woe and weariness in the faces of the Londoners instead of pleasure and joy___
I the every cry of every man
In every Infants cry of fear
In every voice, in every ban
The mind –forged manacles I hear.
The symbols that Blake uses in his poetry are rather obscure and difficult to understand, but he is at his best in the use of symbols. He remains a supreme example of symbolic art in all poetry.