Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.
So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:
Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite.
I found this poem to be pretty dark and depressing. For a short poem, there is a lot packed in here and it does not paint a nice picture of human nature and society.
The poem is broken into three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the views of the clod and the third the views of the pebble. The second is an outside observation tying the two together. I will go into more detail on each of these perspectives and the associated symbolism.
The first thing to consider is what the clod and the pebble represent. I see several interpretations for these metaphors. On a basic level, the clod is a poor, underprivileged person, one of the masses, and conversely, the pebble is a ruler or someone of the upper class. The poor person is trodden down by the masses of society while the rich person remains firmly planted as life swirls about.
The clod and the pebble also represent basic personality traits, the optimist and the pessimist, respectively. The clod has a positive outlook, is guided by unconditional love, and seeks to make the world a better place by easing the hell associated with human suffering. The pebble has a negative view of love and humanity. The pessimistic outlook casts a shroud of negativity over everything it comes in contact with. Despite being in a heavenly state, the pessimist always sees the negative and by expressing that negativity, “builds a Hell in Heaven.”
Finally, I see a psychological interpretation here that is worth exploring. I could not help seeing the clod as the compassionate aspect of our psyche, while the pebble is like the ego. The clod, like the passionate nature of our mind, is pliant and can be molded by our experiences. That is not the case with the ego-pebble. The pebble is hard and self-contained. The stream of consciousness swirls about the pebble, but the pebble is unmoved and basically oblivious to anything outside itself.
I know that some of my interpretation stems from ideas that came after Blake wrote this, but I like to think that Blake was someone who was able to tap into something greater than himself and to draw inspiration from a divine source. He was clearly centuries ahead of his time.