Tag Archive: Love

The Clod & the Pebble

“The Clod & the Pebble” lacks an obvious contrary in the Songs of Innocence, itself containing its own internal dissonance and not requiring a counterpoint. The tension is that between the malleable and the rigid, self-abnegation and assertion of the will, acquiescence and defiance.  The clod is flexible and yielding and thereby subsumed into a greater than singular experience, i.e. mashed back into the earth by hooves; the pebble is intransigent, stalwart in the midst of flux, i.e. the brook, and, as such, retains its singularity. The two become representative of the dialectical tension between self-effacing (“seeketh not Itself to please”) and egocentric love (“seeketh only Self to please, / To bind another to its delight”). In the latter, love can only regard the beloved as object, something to be possessed; in the former, all obligation to the self and identity apart from the beloved is dispensed with. Each is given equal heft in the poem, with the first and third stanzas nearly mirror opposites of each other syntactically as well as in message. “The Clod & the Pebble” seeks to reconcile antimony by way way of a negotiated dialectic–operating in a manner synecdochic for the Songs of Innocence and of Experience proper–and irony. That a dirt clod and a pebble are taken as metaphors for differing types of affection is something of a comic undercutting for such a traditionally loftily-treated subject. The usual rhetoric trappings are cast aside in favor for simple particulars. The pastoral Songs of Innocence satirize the more tragic Songs of Experience and vice versa, illustrating what are, for Blake, the contrary, inevitably interwoven states of the soul. This is not deadlock, rather more akin to cross-pollination, as the poetic spirit unfurls itself in fighting, in reconciling such tensions.

In “Songs of Innocence and Experience”, Blake, of course, employs natural imagery and themes throughout. In “Blossom” and “My Pretty Rose Tree”, he goes so far as to personify individual plants and place them in the context of very different manifestations of love. As one is inclined to guess, the joyous love the blossom has for the birds in the first poem reflects the blissful ignorance of innocence praised in those songs. Though the quick-flying sparrow seems to ignore the blossom (in what I read as a brief shift of voice in the final two lines of each stanza), the little sprout just wants the bird “Near [its] Bosom”. In the second stanza of the poem, the “Pretty Pretty Robin,” though sad, is again offered a place of comfort near the bosom of the “happy blossom.” The blossom, therefore, must signify the joyous and free-flowing love of the innocent. Often, among the precocious Don Juans one will find the common trait of a certain eagerness to bestow their attention upon any fleeting fancy.

This haphazard allotment of the naïve individual’s emotional investment has its response in “Songs of Experience”, where “My Pretty Rose Tree” introduces those aspects of love and the relationship that are so often looked over by the young lovers described in “Blossom.” In this poem, the speaker is presented with a flower “as May never bore” in the first line, but in his loyalty to his rose tree, he declines. When the speaker returns home to his “Pretty Rose-tree” after this exchange “To tend her by day and by night” (as one does in a healthy relationship) to find the Rose’s love to be soured. It turns away “with jealousy” and the speaker’s only delight is her thorns. The rose tree should be understood as the ‘experience’d manifestation of love. For reasons left to the imagination, the rose has come to embody jealousy, bitterness,  and malcontent, three common descriptions for the kind of love one sees described on Springer. Is Blake saying that one gains worldly experience to the detriment of pure love? I’d have to say that that certainly seems to be the precise direction he’s heading towards when one considers these two poems together. Thoughts?