The Lamb

The Lamb

by William Blake

The Lamb Poem Summary and Analysis

In Short

  • In William Blake’s poem “The Lamb” a child-speaker asks a lamb if it knows its creator, who gave it life and gifts like its woolly clothing and tender voice.
  • The speaker himself then answers that Christ is its creator. The creator is also called a Lamb and shares the same values of gentleness and innocence with the lamb and the child.
  • The speaker then prays that the God blesses the lamb.

The Lamb – Explanation

Stanza – 1

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;

One of the simplest poems of William Blake, “The Lamb” starts with a very simple question. The speaker asks the little lamb if it knows its creator. The question is repeated in the second line to create a poetic effect. The words “dost thou know” implies that the speaker probably knows the answer.

In the third and fourth lines the speaker elaborates his question. He asks the lamb if it knows the identity of the creator who blessed it with life and gave him the capacity and appetite to feed grazing by the side of the stream and running over the meadows.

The poem, thus, begins with a child-like directness and natural world that show none of the signs of the grown-ups. Such kind of innocent questioning makes us think that the speaker might be a child.

Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

The speaker now asks the lamb whether it knows who has given it the soft and bright wool as a clothing. The lamb has not got ordinary clothes. The speaker calls the wool “clothing of delight”. It is very much thick which covers its body and prevents it from excessive heat and cold.

The creator also gives the lamb a ‘tender voice’. It is so gentle and charming that it fills the valley with joy. It is another unique gift from its creator. The speaker praises the power of the creator who can give such amazing clothes and charming voice to the lamb.

The speaker again repeats his first questions at the end of the first stanza. This adds to the poem’s rhythm as well as to the feeling of innocence.

Stanza – 2

Little lamb, I’ll tell thee;
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.

So, the speaker doesn’t wait for the lamb’s answers. Rather he promises to answers his own questions. He’ll tell the lamb who its creator is.

Now the speaker says (in line 13) that the creator of the lamb is called by the name of the lamb itself. Indeed, He calls Himself a ‘Lamb’. The creator is also gentle and kind. He once was a little child.

It seems that the speaker is talking in riddles. He doesn’t answer it directly. Well, let me tell you that in the Bible, Jesus Christ is called “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”. Lambs get sacrificed, so Christ’s sacrifice was comparable to the lambs’. But here, Blake compares Jesus to the lamb for His gentle nature (‘meek’ and ‘mild’). The image of Jesus as a lamb underscores the Christian values of gentleness and peace.

Again, Christ was a child when he first appeared on the earth as the son of God. He became a child for the sake of mankind. He possesses the naive simplicity and pristine innocence of a child. Thus, the speaker not only informs the lamb who its creator is, but also highlights His characteristics of goodness and purity.

I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Little lamb, God bless thee!

Well, we were right with our assumptions in the first stanza. The speaker, indeed, is a child. He says that the lamb and the child, both are identifiable with the God Himself for their innocence and simplicity. So, the lamb, the child himself and the God are all one in respect of the qualities they possess and share with each other.

The child, in the end, with all his earnestness and sincerity prays for God’s blessings upon the lamb. And the God has already blessed it with heavenly gifts.

The Lamb – Into Details

Publication

In 1780s and 1790s, William Blake published a series of works titles “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience”. These combined works titled as “The Songs of Innocence and of Experience” in 1794 were given a subtitle “Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul”.

The present poem “The Lamb” is a didactic poem and was first published in 1789 in “Songs of Innocence”. Later, in the 1794 volume he published “The Tyger” in “Songs of Experience” as a counterpart to this poem.

Background/Context

William Blake was an 18th century visionary, poet, mystic and artist. Blake’s romantic style of writing allowed him to create contrasting views as those in “The Lamb and “The Tyger”. Known as a romantic, Blake continued through his writing to radically question religion and politics. He was very critical of the church. Blake put his own insight into his poems to raise public awareness in a personal attempt to seek the truth. The “songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” were the products of Blake’s exploration with the themes of good and evil, heaven and hell and knowledge and innocence.

Setting

William Blake is often called a romantic poet. From that angle, we can feel that the setting of the poem is romantic. It depicts a beautiful scene of nature. This is perhaps a countryside with streams and fields where the lamb is grazing. There is also a reference of a valley. Thus, the lamb’s natural environment is used here as the setting of the poem.

Again, there is a spiritual reference in the poem. In that sense, the setting can also be interpreted as the entirety of God’s creation.

Title

“The Lamb” is a simple poem with a deeper meaning. The lamb is a meek and harmless animal who grazes in the fields and fills the valley with its cheerful bleat. It is, thus, represented here as a universal symbol of selfless innocence. The lamb is identified with the Christ Himself to form a trinity of child, lamb and the Redeemer. The focus on the lamb is a reminder that Christ was a saviour who gave his life for the salvation of all mankind. Thus, the title appropriately serves the poet’s purpose of highlighting the virtues of innocence and humanity in this poem.

Form and Language

“The Lamb” is a lyrical poem of Blake. It consists of two stanzas of 10 lines each. Each stanza has five rhymed couplets. The lines are quite short with only 6 or 7 seven syllables. The excellent diction of the poem contributes to its lyrical quality. The use of simple language and careful choice of words creates a cheerful, intimate and childish atmosphere.

Meter and Rhyme

The poem “The Lamb” is written in a trochaic meter in rhymed couplets. Each stanza has five rhymed couplets rhyming AABBCCDDEE.

A trochee is a metrical foot comprising a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. The trochaic meter enhances the feeling of simplicity and thus is used in children’s verse. In most lines there is an extra stressed syllable at the end and it is called a catalectic.

Little | lamb, who | made thee?
Dost thou | know who | made thee,

The first and the last couple of lines in each stanza (as shown in the above example) are in trochaic trimeter (three feet). But the rest of the lines has that extra syllable – the catalectic. The lines are in catalectic trochaic meter.

Gave thee | life, and | bid thee | feed
By the | stream and | o’er the | mead;

The Lamb – Themes

God and Creation

In the first stanza of the poem, the lamb is shown as blessed by the God with its life and other unique gifts like its voice, its woolly clothing and its capacity to feed and graze. The child-speaker asks the lamb if it knows who created it. This very question right at the beginning of the poem sets the theme of creation. Moreover, the description of nature with the stream, the meadows, the valley filled with the lamb’s pleasant voice – all create a wonderful atmosphere instilling an awe for the God’s amazing creation. Thus, God’s power of creation is highlighted as a theme in the first half of the poem.

Childhood and Innocence

The speaker of the poem “The Lamb” is a child. He shows his deep joy in the company of the lamb who is just like him meek and mild. Even on its surface level, the poem conveys the very spirit of childhood, the purity, the innocence, the tenderness, as well as the affection that a child feels for little creatures like the lamb.

There are overtones of Christian symbolism too, suggested by Christ as a child. The lamb and the child share the same purity and innocence as the God Himself and are identified as Christ. The pastoral setting is also another symbol of innocence and joy.

The Lamb – Symbols

The Lamb

The lamb is the main object of the poem. And it is a powerful symbol too. Firstly, it symbolizes God’s wonderful creation. The child celebrates God’s power of creation through his questions to the lamb in the first stanza of the poem. Secondly, the lamb represents and gentleness and tenderness (meek and mild). This is why the poet refers Christ’s identity as Lamb. The lamb, in fact, shares same qualities as the God Himself. Thus, the lamb is celebrated here with the Christian hope that “meek shall inherit the earth”.

The Lamb – Literary Devices

End-Stopped Line

An end-stopped line is a line of verse that ends with a punctuation. Most of the lines in the poem are end-stopped lines.

Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

By the stream and o’er the mead;

He is meek and he is mild,

Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in neighbouring words.

LittlLamb I’ll tell thee, (‘l’ sound)

By the stream and o’er the mead; (‘m’ sound)

Alliteration

Alliteration is a sub-category of consonance. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning (or, stressed syllables) of nearby words.

Little lamb, who made thee? (‘l’ sound)

He is meek, and He is mild, (‘m’ sound)

Apostrophe

An apostrophe in literature is an exclamatory address to a thing which is personified, or to a person who is dead or absent.

Here the speaker addresses the lamb repeatedly in the poem as if it is a human being. Those are instances of apostrophe in the poem.

Little Lamb who made thee?

Allusion

An allusion is an indirect reference to something of historical, cultural, political or literary importance.

There is an indirect reference to Christ when the speaker says that the lamb’s creator is known by its name and he was once a child.

He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.

Refrain

In poetry, a refrain is a line or phrase that is repeated within the lines or stanzas of the poem itself.

Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

The above lines are repeated twice in the first stanza of the poem, making it an example of refrain.

Anaphora

It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses.

Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,

Epistrophe

The opposite of anaphora. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences.

Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Imagery

The poet uses visual imageries (as if we can see them) when he describes the pastoral setting in the poem –

By the stream and o’er the mead;

Softest clothing, woolly, bright;

Again, auditory imagery (sounds that we hear) is used in the following line –

Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?

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