Study Guide

The Lamb Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

By William Blake

Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

The Lamb

William Blake loves lambs. They connect religion with both the human and natural worlds, being associated with the rugged fields and valleys of the English countryside as well as with farming and country folk. Traditionally, lambs represent innocence. In the Christian Gospels, Jesus Christ is compared to a lamb because he goes meekly to be sacrificed on behalf of humanity. Moreover, lambs, as baby sheep, are connected to the theme of childhood that runs throughout the Songs of Innocence. By contrast, Songs of Experience contains only one reference to a lamb. The speaker of "The Tyger" asks, "Did he who made the lamb make thee?"

  • Lines 1-2: The imagined lamb is addressed using apostrophe. The speaker talks to the lamb as if it could understand him. Also, through being called "little," the lamb is domesticated and treated like a pet. Finally, "Little Lamb" is a clear example of alliteration.
  • Line 3: The story of the lamb's making is probably a distant allusion to the myth of the creation of the world from the Book of Genesis in the Bible.
  • Lines 5-6: The lamb is personified as having clothing, which is actually just its wool. The description of its "Softest clothing wooly bright" is one of the most sensual images in the poem.
  • Line 7: Animals make sounds, but we don't often think of them having "voices" unless we're personifying them.
  • Lines 9-10: This repeated address to the "Little Lamb" is the poem's refrain. "Dost thou know who made thee" is a rhetorical question. The speaker does not expect an answer from the bleating lamb.
  • Lines 11-12: If "The Lamb" were a pop song, you could think of the break between the two stanzas as the "bridge" that connects two choruses, or refrains.
  • Line 14: The Lamb is a symbol for Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
  • Line 18: The lamb is also a metaphor for the child speaker, who belongs to Christ's "flock." In Christianity, Jesus is compared both to a lamb going to the sacrifice and to a shepherd who protects his flock of lambs and sheep.
  • Lines 19-20: The poem ends with one more two-line refrain in which the child blesses the lamb.

Pastoral Life

Many of the poems in the Songs of Innocence, including "The Lamb," contain pastoral imagery. "Pastoral" refers to the idealized lives of merry shepherds and shepherdesses who traipse through the countryside alongside their flocks. They are connected to the land and the seasons, unlike the city dwellers who appear more frequently in the Songs of Experience. Pastoral imagery is often highly formulaic, and once you've seen one fluffy sheep resting in the dappled shade of a tall oak, you've seen them all. This poem is no exception. Still, it's hard the resist the charms of a good gurgling brook or flower-strewn meadow.

  • Line 1: The lamb is a classic symbol of pastoral life. Before farmers started to fence in their livestock, they would hire shepherds to lead their herds from field to field to feast on herbs and grass. The speaker of this poem may be one such young shepherd.
  • Lines 3-4: These lines contain an implicit metaphor comparing God to a Great Big Shepherd. God is the one who gives sheep the desire to feed in the first place.
  • Line 8: The valleys or "vales" of the country landscape are personified as a joyful choir echoing the sound of the lamb.

Christianity

Sometimes a lamb is just a lamb. That is, unless it's the "Lamb of God." Or unless it's the human lambs being shepherded by Jesus Christ. Christianity turns everyone in this poem into a lamb. The poem's symbolic, religious meaning comes through in the second stanza, where the lamb's creator is revealed to be Jesus Christ.

  • Lines 1-2: The speaker asks the lamb a rhetorical question: if it knows who created it.
  • Lines 13-14: One of Jesus Christ's "names" is the "Lamb of God." The real lamb of the poem (you know, the soft fuzzy one) is personified by being given a name.
  • Lines 15-16: The description of Christ as "meek" and "mild" may be an allusion to a hymn published by Charles Wesley in 1763. The description of Christ as a child is an allusion to the Biblical story of his birth into the world, which many celebrate at Christmas.
  • Lines 17-18: That both the child and the lamb are called by Christ's "names" sounds like a punning reference to the fact that Christ was known by several different names.

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