The Lamb by William Blake

Included in The Songs of Innocence published in 1789, William Blake’s poem The Lamb has been regarded “as one of the great lyrics of English Literature.” In the form of a dialogue between the child and the lamb, the poem is an amalgam of the Christian script and pastoral tradition. The lamb is a universal symbol of selfless innocence, Jesus the Lamb is the gentle imagination, the Divine Humanity. The Lamb identifies with Christ to form a Trinity of child, Lamb and Redeemer. The poem presents the ideal of charity substantiating Christian compassion and caritas or caring, the ideals of the Lamb of God. However, the Christian connotations also contain the implications of sacrifice, death and tragedy; Christ the human sacrifice who look upon himself the sings of the world.”

The Lamb by William Blake consists of two stanzas, each with five rhymed couplets. Repetition in the first and last couplet of each stanza turns these lines into a refrain, and helps in providing the poem its song-like quality. The flowing l’s and soft vowel sounds also make a contribution to this effect, and also bring forth the bleating of a lamb or the lisping character of a child’s chant.


Analysis of The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

Gave thee life & bid thee feed.

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing wooly bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice!

Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

The Lamb is a didactic poem. In this poem the poet pays a tribute to Lord Christ who was innocent and pure like a child and meek and mild like a lamb. The little child asks the lamb if he knows who has created it, who has blessed it with life and with the capacity to feed by the stream and over the meadow. The child asks him if the lamb knows who has given it bright and soft wool, which serves as its clothing, who has given it a tender voice which fills the valley with joy. In the firs stanza of ten lines of William Blake’s poem The Lamb, the child who is supposed to be speaking to the lamb, gives a brief description of the little animal as he sees it. The lamb has been blessed with life and with the capacity to feed by the stream and over the meadow; it has been endowed with bright and soft wool which serves as its clothing; it has a tender voice which fills the valley with joy.

The readers here are provided with a true portrait of a lamb. In the poem the child of innocence repeatedly asks the lamb as to who made him. Does he know who created him (the lamb)? The same question has been put repeatedly all through the first lines of the poem. The child addresses Little Lamb to ask him who made him and wants to ascertain whether he knows who made him. The child wants to know who gave the Lamb his life, who fed him while living along the river on the other said of the meadow. H also wants to know from the Lamb who supplied him with pleasant body-cover (clothing) which is softest, full of wool and shining. The Lamb is also asked by the child who gave him such delicate bleating voice, which resounds a happy note in the surrounding valleys. The stanza is marked by the child’s innocence which is the first stage in Blake’s journey to truth.

“The Child of Innocence lives by intuition, enjoys a spontaneous communion with nature and sees the divine in all things.”

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 & he is mild,

He became a little child:

I a child & thou a lamb,

We are called by his name.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

In the second stanza of the poem, there is an identification of the lamb, Christ, and the child. Christ has another name, that is, Lamb, because Christ is meek and mild like lamb. Christ was also a child when he first appeared on this earth as the Son of God. Hence the appropriateness of the following lines: “He became a little child:/I a child & thou a lamb,/We are called by his name.” The child in this poem speaks to the lamb, as if the lamb were another child and could respond to what is being said. The child shows his deep joy in the company of the lamb who is just like him, meek and mild. The poem conveys the spirit of childhood – the purity, the innocence, the tenderness of childhood and the affection that a child feels for little creatures.

A religious note is introduced in the poem because of the image of Christ as a child. The Lamb is a pastoral poem. The pastoral poem note in Blake is another symbol of joy and innocence. In the next ten lines of the second stanza from William Blake’s poem The Lamb, the child himself proceeds to answer the questions he has asked the Lamb in the first stanza. The child says that the person, who has created the Lamb and has given many gifts described in the first stanza, is himself by the name of the Lamb.

It is Jesus Christ who calls himself a Lamb. Jesus the Lamb is meek (submissive) and mild (soft-natured), and he became a child for the sake of mankind. The narrator (I) is a child, he is Lamb and they both are called by Jesus’s name. The Lamb identifies with Christ to form a Trinity of Child, Lamb and Redeemer (Jesus).


Personal Comments

The Lamb by William Blake has been written in the form of question and answer. Where its first stanza is descriptive and rural, the second concentrates on abstract spiritual matters and consists of analogy and explanation. The question of the child is both profound and naïve, and the apostrophic form of the poem make a contribution to the effect of naiveté, since the situation of a child in discourse with an animal is a convincing one, and not just a literary contrivance. Still by giving answers to his own question, the child succeeds in converting it into a rhetorical one, as a result countering the initial spontaneous sense of the poem. The answer is depicted as a riddle or a puzzle, and even though it’s an easy one—child’s play—this also helps in contributing to an essential sense of sardonic knowingness or artifice in the poem. However, the child’s answer discloses his self-reliance in his simple Christian faith and his innocent acceptance of its teachings.


Life of William Blake

William Blake was the most remarkable poet among the precursors of the Romantic Revival in English. The son of a hosier, Blake was born in London in November, 1757. His father James Blake and his mother Catherine were both Dissenters. There were five children in the family, Blake was the second one. It appears that the denial and deprivation of love from the family might have generated in Blake’s mind, an exotic imaginary world of his own. At the age of seven, he was sent to a good drawing school in the strand, and four years later, in 1772, he began a seven years apprenticeship in engraving under James Besire. He was an engraver to the London Society of Antiquaries, where he learned his craft as well as acquiring some of his poetical and political opinions. In 1779 he began studying at the Royal Academy and within a year began exhibited pictures there, often with historical themes. At twenty-four he married Catherine Boucher, who was an illiterate. So, he taught her to read, write, and make colors and prints. He never had children, but he was devoted to his younger brother Robert and taught him drawing and nursed him.


Works of William Blake

William Blake’s poetry is as delighted as it is  challenging, and its wide appeal ranges from the deceptive cadence of his lullaby-like pastorals and songs to the troubling notes of  the tragedy of the lapsed soul and the stormy music of the prophetic works. The writings of Blake may be classified under the following literary heads:

  1. Lyrical poems, including songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience
  2. Irregular rhyme-less verse
  3. Rhythmic prose and
  4. Descriptive and critical prose

However, Blake’s most widely read poems are contained in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

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