Tag Archives: songs of innocence

“The Shepherd” by William Blake

BlakeShepherdI was in the mood to read some William Blake today, so I picked up my copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience and read the first poem which I had not yet covered in my blog, which was “The Shepherd.” It is very short, so I am including it here in the post.

How sweet is the Shepherd’s sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lamb’s innocent call,
And he hears the ewe’s tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.

This poem seems very simple, yet something about it puzzles me, and the more I think about it, the more puzzled I become. The first thing that struck me was the repetition of the word “sweet” in the first line. It could be that Blake was just going for an alliterative effect, but that doesn’t seem right. He was subtly hinting at something, but I am not making the connection. Then the following line ends with another alliterative: “strays.” Again, something is not sitting right with me about this. The shepherd is not straying; he is staying with the flock. I cannot figure out why Blake chose “strays” instead of “stays.”

The biggest puzzle for me though is that at the end of the first stanza, where it is said that the Shepherd’s “tongue shall be filled with praise.” This seems to contrast the entire second stanza, which to me seems to imply that the Shepherd is Christ watching over his flock. If that is the case, why would Christ follow and praise the flock? It seems that it would be the opposite, that the flock would follow and praise Christ the Shepherd. The only explanation I can come up with is that the Shepherd recognizes that there is beauty, divinity, and holiness in the flock and seeks to nurture and protect that divinity, and to sing the praises of God’s manifestation in humanity.

I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on this poem. Do you think that I am searching too deeply for hidden meaning or do you think my questions are valid? Let me know your interpretations. Cheers!!

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Introduction to Songs of Innocence by William Blake

IntroSongsOfInnocenceToday I read William Blake’s “Introduction” to the Songs of Innocence. It’s a short, beautiful poem that evokes pastoral images and happiness in its simplicity.

In this poem, Blake is the piper and his idyllic music is symbolic of the poems contained in the Songs of Innocence. But there are some interesting things going on in this poem that warrant a closer look.

In the first stanza, Blake meets the child. Now there is some ambiguity in the line: “On a cloud I saw a child.” It’s not clear whether the child is on the cloud, or if the piper is on the cloud. Likely, it was intended to be both. Blake, while losing himself in the transcendent bliss of his songs, finds himself floating as upon a cloud. Also, the image of a child upon a cloud is likely Christ. I personally feel that both interpretations are correct and that this was intentional on the part of the writer.

I also find the last two stanzas to be very interesting:

Piper sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read— 
So he vanish’d from my sight. 
And I pluck’d a hollow reed. 
And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear

Blake’s poems in this book are all illustrated, as shown in the image above. In the last two stanzas, he describes how he fashioned a pen from a reed and added dye to water. These are the tools he used to create the illustrated poems, decorated using watercolors.

William Blake is one of my favorite poets, and this is another example of why. He created beautiful, simple poems that still inspire and cause one to contemplate.

Click here to read the poem online.

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“The Lamb” by William Blake

TheLambI really like this poem because it is such a beautiful expression of innocence. It is simple and reminds me of a child’s nursery rhyme. It’s also very accessible and the metaphors are easy to understand.

The lamb has a two-fold symbolism. First, it represents the untainted innocence of childhood. The voice of the speaker is that of a child. The child relates to the lamb because the he sees himself as a lamb.

The lamb is also a symbol for Christ and this is represented in the poem. In the second stanza, the connection between Christ and the lamb is clearly established.

He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb: 
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:

I also see a connection between the child and Christ. The child sees himself reflected in the lamb and at the same time understands that Christ was the lamb. The message here is that children are Christ-like by nature. It is only later in life that children become corrupt and experience the proverbial fall from grace.

Reading this poem today made me feel happy. It was just what I needed. Click here to read the poem online.

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