“A Cradle Song” by William Blake

CradleSong1Sweet dreams form a shade,
O’er my lovely infants head.
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams,
By happy silent moony beams

Sweet sleep with soft down.
Weave thy brows an infant crown.
Sweet sleep Angel mild,
Hover o’er my happy child.

Sweet smiles in the night,
Hover over my delight.
Sweet smiles Mothers smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes,
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep sleep happy child,
All creation slept and smil’d.
Sleep sleep, happy sleep.
While o’er thee thy mother weep

Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee,
Thy maker lay and wept for me

Wept for me for thee for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see.
Heavenly face that smiles on thee,

CradleSong2Smiles on thee on me on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are His own smiles,
Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.

After a month of gothic and macabre reading, I decided to go for the extreme opposite today and read William Blake’s “A Cradle Song” (posted above). The poem is part of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and certainly has the feel of a sweet, childhood lullaby. In fact, for kicks and giggles, I read part of it aloud in a sing-song tone of voice and it sounded like a song that a mother would sing while rocking her infant to sleep.

In addition to the simple AABB rhyming scheme and the musical cadence, Blake goes heavy on the use of alliteration, particularly the “ess” sound. This works very well, invoking a feeling of a soft “shhh” as the mother calms her child, or of gentle breezes outside a window as one teeters on the brink of sleep.

Blake associates the child with Christ, a metaphor that he frequently uses in his poems from Songs of Innocence. The mother sees the image of Christ reflected in her child’s face. It’s a sweet image, but nothing really earth-shattering.

There is, though, something foreboding below the surface of this poem, the key to which is in the following stanza:

Sleep sleep happy child,
All creation slept and smil’d.
Sleep sleep, happy sleep.
While o’er thee thy mother weep

The mother is sad and weeping, which seems to contrast the general tone of the poem. My guess is that the mother, gazing upon her child, knows that her child is destined to grow up, suffer, and die. As much as she would love to coddle and protect her infant, the harsh reality is that doing so is impossible. On a more cosmic scale, I would go as far as to assert that the mother here represents the Goddess, looking down upon “all creation” as it sleeps and realizing that Her beautiful creation is destined to die, that eventually our world, like everything else, will wither and pass from existence.

Blake’s poems never cease to fascinate me. Many of them, such as this one, seem so simple on the surface, yet the more you think about them, the more profound they become.

Thanks for reading, and as always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

10 Comments

Filed under Literature

10 responses to ““A Cradle Song” by William Blake

  1. William Blake a great thinker ,he was the teacher of Gibran Khalil the Lebanese American author.Great post.jal

  2. I have this great CD of Blake’s poetry set to music by Allen Ginsberg. This one is on it. He does it in a slow, minor key and accentuates the sense of foreboding you talk about. I like what you said about the shhh. sound. I think that’s called a sibilant sound. I do think Blake’s most deceptively simple poetry is very rich in meaning and is worthy of lengthy meditation.

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  6. Blake really is fascinating. According to what I have read Blake coined the term “Divine Humanity” and said Christ was within everyone rather than being someone aside from us. He was criticized for this but continued to use imagery of Christ within his writings. Thanks for this quality post which I enjoyed!

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