Night - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Blake was concerned to express what he believed was his true understanding of Christianity. He used Christian images that he knew his readers would recognise, but often reinterpreted them.

Angels – Angels are associated with God's work, as the terms ‘bright', ‘blessing' and ‘joy' connote. In the third stanza, Blake seems to allude to the idea of the guardian angel. See Big ideas from the Bible > Angels.

TygerWolves and tygers – These are predatory animals but for Blake the tiger was also a symbol of the fierce energy and power at the heart of creation, conveyed by the phrase ‘rush dreadful'. To Blake's contemporaries, wolves would be associated with treachery and destructiveness (particularly in attacking the Christian faith). They would be familiar with Jesus' use of images of sheep, shepherds and the dangers of wolves in the Gospels (e.g.John 10:1-16).

The lion - The lion is an ambiguous figure in the Bible. See Big ideas from the Bible > Lion. LionThe devil is described as being ‘like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour' (1 Peter 5:8). But Jesus, too, is called ‘the Lion of Judah' in Revelation 5:5, a regal image which refers to a prophecy made about the Israelite tribe to which he belonged (Genesis 49:9-10. (CS Lewis' Narnia series draws on this symbolism in the figure of Aslan.) His ‘ruddy eyes' possibly alludes to the red associated with the iconography of the Lion of Judah.

Wrath .. meekness / health .. sickness – The lion quotes a famous prophecy from Isaiah that is understood by Christians to refer to Jesus Isaiah 53:5. It demonstrates that Christ also embodies the contraries that Blake admired. The idea is developed in the concept of a New Heaven and New Earth in the New Testament book of Revelation. In this new world, there will be no more night and day, no sadness, nor death nor cause for tears. (See Revelation 21:1-4). The lion lies down with the lamb. However, though this is presented in the Bible as a positive victory of good over evil, for Blake the idea that the lion now grazes could be seen as a diminution of his identity as a lion.

The lion and the lambLion / lamb – The phrase ‘beside thee, bleating lamb … sleep' alludes to an image from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah that ‘the lion will lie down with the lamb' (Isaiah11:6). These ideas of peace and restoration are taken up in Revelation, where Jesus is the victorious Lamb.

Lamb – This vision of peace through the triumph of the Lamb is completed in the reference to ‘him who bore thy name', a reference to Jesus, the Lamb of God. See Big ideas from the Bible > Sheep, shepherd, lamb. The peace Jesus wins comes through suffering and conflict, and Revelation is also written within a context of horror and suffering before victory and peace is achieved.

Wash'd in life's river – This echoes Revelation 22:1 as well as being a reference to baptism, the initiation rite of the church which symbolises being cleansed and saved by Jesus. See Big ideas from the Bible > Baptism.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • What qualities would you associate with
    • Someone who was lamb-like?
    • Someone who was like a lion?
      • What is positive and negative about each?


The contraries of Christ

By drawing on the dual imagery of lamb and lion, and portraying the combination of meekness and anger, sickness and restoration, strength and compassion, Blake achieves his ideal unification of contraries, within the person of Jesus. The state of innocence is, therefore, able to contain both good and bad, life and death, safety and danger, because they are held together in the ‘fold' by Christ.

The nature of innocence

According to Blake, innocence needs to contain an awareness of darkness as well as light, of danger as well as security, of victim and victor. To be unaware of both states renders it vulnerable.

Investigating themes

  • Compare the representation of Christ here and in The Lamb
  • Compare the theme of innocence as it is used here and in Cradle Song
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