The speaker, identifying himself as a child, asks a series of questions of a little lamb, and then answers the questions for the lamb. He asks if the lamb knows who made it, who provides it food to eat, or who gives it warm wool and a pleasant voice.
The speaker then tells the lamb that the one who made it is also called “the Lamb” and is the creator of both the lamb and the speaker. He goes on to explain that this Creator is meek and mild, and Himself became a little child. The speaker finishes by blessing the lamb in God’s name.
Each stanza of “The Lamb” has five couplets, typifying the AABB rhyme scheme common to Blake's Innocence poems. By keeping the rhymes simple and close-knit, Blake conveys the tone of childlike wonder and the singsong voice of innocent boys and girls. The soft vowel sounds and repetition of the “l” sound may also convey the soft bleating of a lamb.
One of Blake’s most strongly religious poems, “The Lamb” takes the pastoral life of the lamb and fuses it with the Biblical symbolism of Jesus Christ as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” By using poetic rhetorical questions, the speaker, who is probably childlike rather than actually a child, creates a sort of lyric catechism in which the existence of both a young boy and a tender lamb stand as proof of a loving, compassionate Creator.
The lamb stands in relation to the boy as the boy stands in relation to his elders; each must learn the truth of his existence by questioning the origin of his life and inferring a Creator who possesses the same characteristics of gentleness, innocence, and loving kindness as both the lamb and the child. Then the direct revelation of the Scripture comes into play. The Creator, here identified specifically as Jesus Christ by his title of “Lamb of God,” displays these characteristics in his design of the natural and human world, and in His offer of salvation to all (hence the child is also “called by his name”) through his incarnation (“he became a little child”) and presumably his death and resurrection.
A reading of William Blake’s “The Lamb” brings forth a very spiritual and obvi-ously pastoral message in a traditional (for the era) Christian theme. Blake effectively uses several techniques of harmony and economy which set forth and amplify the sense of spirituality and innocence. His use of repetition, metaphor, and succinct gentle illusions provide the reader with a compelling devotional and contemplative work that sounds as much prayer as poem. Often the repetitions of poetic lines will in the least add emphasis and at most provide a jarring counterpoint to the desired fluidity of movement.
In the case of “The Lamb” the repetition gives almost a sing-song childish cadence which quickly sets the tone by opening the first stanza: “Little Lamb who made thee Dist thou know who made thee…” (Lines 1, 2) Then he reinforces the opening by closing the stanza: “Little Lamb who made thee Dost thou know who made thee” (Lines 10, 11) Combined with the careful rhyming during the stanza, “feed-mead”, “delight-bright” and “voice-rejoice” it produces more a soft melody reminiscent of a lullaby, with the repeti-tion setting forth pause and relaxation.
The method continues in the second stanza, with a cumulative effect, as the opening question is soon to be answered: “Little lamb I’ll tell thee “Little lamb I’ll tell thee…” (Lines 13, 14) Again, with perhaps less careful rhyming during the second stanza, “name, Lamb”, “mild, child” and reversed “lamb, name” the scheme is still effective because of the pattern, placing “name-lamb-mild-child-lamb-name”, followed by the non-rhyme “we are called by his name” which sets up the closing “answer”: “Little Lamb God bless thee. “Little Lamb God bless thee.
” (Lines 21, 22) Metaphorically the “little Lamb” is of course reference to Jesus Christ, “For he calls himself a Lamb” (Line 16), the Lamb of God. Like the little lamb Jesus Christ “is meek and he is mild” (Line 17). Jesus Christ, born unto The Virgin Mary “became a little child” (Line 18) as well, and both the lamb and the narrator are children of and made in the image of Jesus Christ: “I a child & thou a lamb We are called by his name. ” (Lines 19, 20) Additional metaphors exist; who is it, the narrator asks the Lamb who gave you life, food and water?
According to Christian belief and Catholic ritual “life” itself comes from “the body and blood of Christ”. The theme carries further with the concept of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd eternally vigilant in protecting his innocent flock of sheep and lambs. Blake creates an overall splendor through language, absent any thorns, wolves or threatening storms. There is no “fire and brimstone”, lambs about to be placed on the sac-rificial alter, or cowering from invading predators.
Instead there is “clothing of delight” which is the “softest clothing wooly bright” and of course the gentle voice of the lamb which makes all within hearing “rejoice”. Blake uses these techniques in producing a masterwork of brevity, proving the theory, particularly appropriate to prose and poetry, that less is often more. In a scant twenty-two lines he is able to create a very strong image of innocent beauty within the greater idea of God’s creation as well as protection (“God bless thee”).
Intentional or not the poem gives not only comfort but strength. The world as Blake knew it was certainly filled with destruction, ugliness and uncertainty as much, or even more so than any other era in history. There is a reassurance, created by the repetition and rhythm, as well as a sense of relaxation, of slowing down and reflecting in the face of hectic uncertainty. Life of course is anything but a bucolic vision free of malevolence, and unfortunately for every lamb there is a wolf.
Blake is not so blind as to not see there is always a duality to life, a balance between the poles of calm and fury, innocence and evil. Blake has produced the counterpoint as well, with “The Tyger”, also from his “Songs of Experience”. Here he asks the question “did he who made the Lamb make thee? ” (Tyger, Line 20). By doing so he forces the reader to face the timeless question of how both can be created by the same God only to live in contradiction to each other. As with any metaphysical question there is no clear answer, and likely there should not be.
It is the identification, reflection and articulation of the question that matters. There is no escaping the existence of The Tyger or any number of predators and for what reason they exist man can only speculate. William Blake has provided his audience with much to contemplate as they make their speculation. Works Cited Blake, William. “The Lamb”, “The Tyger”. Songs Of Innocence and of Experience, copy Z. London: Catherine and William Blake, 1789. Works available in entirety at http://www. rc. umd. edu/rchs/reader/tygerlamb. html