A Cradle Song by William Blake

After one and half month painful journey of hospitals, due to my son illness, I decided to read and analyze the William Blake’s A Cradle Song. Though I had read this poem during my graduation days, it touched me today when I experienced the same pain like a mother and a father.

The poem, A Cradle Song is part of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and undoubtedly it possesses the feel of a sweet, childhood lullaby. If truly said, for giggles and kicks, I read part of it aloud in a sing-song tone of voice, and it really sounded as a song that a mother normally sings while rocking her infant to sleep. Apart from the musical cadence and the AABB rhyming scheme, Blake also employs alliteration, especially the “ess” sound, which invokes a feeling of a soft “shhh” as the mother calms her child, or of gentle breezes outside a window as one sway unsteadily on the brink of sleep. In the poem, Black has associated the child with Christ, a metaphor that he often employs in his almost all poems from Songs of Innocence.

In all, it can be said that A Cradle Song is a Romantic poem, which is just about a mother’s love toward her baby. This poem was written in such a way that people all around the globe could understand that we all have mutual feeling when it comes to the love of a mother and a father toward  his/her children.

About William Blake

William Blake was born on November 28, 1757, and died on August 12, 1827. He is well-known for his superb poetry contribution, and some of his famous works include; The Nurse’s Song, The Lamb, A Poison Tree, Cradle Song, and a lot more that are still imprinted in the minds of poetry lovers. Blake was educated at Henry Pars Drawing School. This was before he became an apprentice to James Basire, an engraver, in the years of 1772 to 17779. William was a huge supporter of the French Revolution, and his poetry and art work almost showed his political, social and religious beliefs. Not only the people around Blake then understood him, but even today in twentieth-century many artist and readers appreciate his greatness, and his great poetry contribution that he made to the poetry world.

Summary of the A Cradle Song

This lullaby is mainly a simple song of a mother, who enjoys her baby’s restful sound and expressions. In A Cradle Song, she is shown dwelling upon her child’s “Sweet moans, sweeter smiles” and asks that an Angel keeps an eye on her baby’s dreams. The last three stanzas in the poem create a similarity between the baby in her arms and the Baby that once laid in a manger, the incarnate Jesus Christ. The mother can find out the “Holy image” in her baby’s face, and discovers in her child’s cries the crying of the Savior for all humanity. Here she talks about Jesus Christ.

The mother, who is personified as Virgin here, concludes by tracing that, as the mother is beguiled by the baby’s smiles, so beguiles the smiles of the infant Christ “Heaven & Earth to peace.” It’s only as a result of the process of incarnation that God succeeds in restoring a sinful, damaged world to a situation of childlike innocence.

Analysis of A Cradle Song

Sweet dreams, form a shade

O’er my lovely infant’s head;

Sweet dreams of pleasant streams

By happy, silent, moony beams.

Sweet sleep, with soft down

Weave thy brows an infant crown.

Sweep sleep, Angel mild,

Hover o’er my happy child.

This poem can almost be read like a lullaby to an infant. The speaker (a mother) in the poem encourages the infant to sleep as nothing but sweet dreams and smiles hover over him in his sleep. The speaker then starts talking about how he can trace a holy image over the child’s face and tells the story of how once an infant, most probably Jesus Christ, was born and wept for the child to live. The speaker concludes by mentioning that the savior wept for him and for all and because of that there is peace as his smiles cover all of the people in heaven and on earth.

A Cradle Song is written in very simple form of four line stanzas with rhyming couplets. The structure of the poem is interesting; the first four stanzas each begin with the word “sweet” which is repeated in the third line, but moves from “Sweet dreams” to “Sweet sleep” to “Sweet moans”, probably suggesting  a progression from the world of innocence to experience, although the mother is wishing the world of experience away from her infant. The first verse of the poem dwells on sleep, and the sweetness it brings. The second verse reveals that a mother can see the happiness on her child’s sleeping face. In the third verse, the poet talks about the mother and the happy sleeping child. He further talks about the happiness and smiles, which is taken away when the morning downs.

Sweet smiles, in the night

Hover over my delight;

Sweet smiles, Mother’s 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.

In the above two stanzas, the mother says that sweet sleeps at night brings sweet smile in the face of my son, it increases my delight. Almost all the livelong night is enchanting and beguiling. She is all protective, and wishes that her child should be completely innocent with the experience of ‘woe,’ meaning he should not face any suffering. However, life is not a bed of roses. When a human being comes on this earth, he/she comes with his/her own suffering and happiness. The mother even longs that the ‘dovelike moans’ must be calmed. However, she forgets that everything is destined by the Almighty god. He is the one who writes our glees and sorrows. When the mother thinks of these sorrows and sufferings waiting for her child in future, she also thinks of Jesus, who too bore sufferings for you, me and us, and so to say for the all human race. So, the child is like Jesus Christ who too was born for sufferings, but he bore all these sufferings for his children. Beguile means charm or enchant (someone), sometimes in a deceptive way. So, through the meaning of this wold, it is quite clear that the child is a deceptive form of Jesus Christ who was born for the human welfare.

Possible connotation: “Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.” Heaven and earth enchants and charms the whole world into peace due to the tears of the infant Jesus.

On the other hand, there is a use of word moans, which typically means displeasure, but in this context, this word appears to indicate peace as the baby moans in its obviously deep sleep.

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,

In the above two stanzas, the mother sings her child to sleep. She says all creation of the God is slept, you should also sleep. She says though you have your own suffering to bear in future, but you have to face all of them as it is already destined by the Almighty God for you. However, the mother comforts herself by believing that her baby is fresh from God. He can still see him. Just as she smiles on her baby, Jesus Christ also smiles at him. This way, she forgets the reason of her weeping. The mother can trace the image of Christ mirrored in her child’s face. It is really a sweet image, but not at all earth-shattering. The mother is weeping and sad, which appears to contrast the general tone of A Cradle Song. Having gone through these lines, I can perceive that mother, staring at her child, is very well aware of the fact that her child is fated to grow up, suffer the pains and pangs of his part, and then will die. Though she can do her best to protect her child, and calm herself, the hard reality is that he will have to face what god has destined for him. She says, “She can see sweet face of Jesus in her child’s face; she can even trace the holy image of Jesus Christ.” The Christ was also born like you, he wept for all of us, but he also saved all of us. The Christ also faced the sufferings of crucifixion and execution, but he bore all these sufferings for the welfare of human race.

Wept for me, for thee, for all,

When he was an infant small

Thou his image ever see,

Heavenly face that smiles on thee,

Smiles on thee, on me, on all;

Who became an infant small.

Infant smiles are his own smiles;

Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.

The poem, A Cradle Song moves from a child to Christ. Where in the first part of the poem, the poet shows a mother singing her child to sleep, the later part of the poem; she is shown to comparing the sleep, smiles and suffering of her child with Jesus Christ. In the last two stanzas of the poem, the poet says that just as the child is weeping, Jesus Christ also “Wept for me, for thee, for all, When he was an infant small.” He too had a heavenly face like the child. She mentions how earth and heaven are in complete harmony and at peace, thanks to the sufferings of Jesus, who bore it all for us. In the entire poem, the mother makes use of word “sweet” ten times, and the way she describes her child, she also makes the infant seem like an angel. This is made clear when she says, “Sweet moans, dovelike sighs, Chase not slumber from thy eyes.”

Through his poetry, Blake wants to assert that Christ was born for all of us, and he had ‘Wept for me for thee for all, /When he was an infant small.’ Through the verse like ‘Heavenly face that smiles on thee, /Smiles on thee on me on all, /Who became an infant small, Blake wants to express God’s love toward all human race. Thus, the theme of the poem is not just parental care, but it also talks about the  relationship between the human perspective of God and the way People avoid, or approach, the co-existence of ‘woe and joy’ in human life.

Personal Comments to A Cradle Song

William Blake tried to capture and reflect everything what was taking place during his time. However, there was hardly anyone who could understand him, and this is a very common thing to be seen in the genius people. I feel he was not happy with his life as he and his wife had no offspring, and this may be the reason why he had been so obsessed with children. However, the way he has presented his child poetry, it shows his mature point of view not only toward life but children, as well. Whether you read, A Cradle Song,” “Shepherd”, “A Dream,” “A Little Boy Lost,” “A Little Girl Lost,” or any other poem related to children, you will find that that passion, purity and love that a responsible parents can have toward their children.

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