On “The Clod and the Pebble”

Something about this poem really interests me and I’m not sure what. The speaker of the poem is a listener of the voice of nature. This voice comes not from animals, the cattle, or the frogs and duck in Blake’s illumination, but inanimate objects. The clod and pebble speak in verse; the first and third stanzas are in quotation marks. The speaker of the poem is but a transcriber. I find the voice of the speakers in Blake’s poetry very interesting. He likes to take on the voice of different characters in his poems, whether the nurse, the children, the chimney sweeper, or an infant. Blake’s own voice is a lot of the times absent in his poetry, and in this case, Blake avoids the reference of the lyric “I.” The speaker here is a translator for nature. Unlike many other Romantic poets, Blakes positions himself here as a mediator and a messenger, instead of a God-like, solitary hero who contains the power of imagination and wisdom.

The relationship between the clod and the pebble here is also interesting. The “little” clod of clay that has to endure the weight of the cattle finds Love to be generous and selfless. It “sang” a praise for Love. But the pebble “Warbled out” in response that Love is in fact quite brutal. The clod of clay is immobile, stuck under the weight of the cattle (a massive herd actually, in the illumination), while the pebble of the flowing brook has freedom and the ability to travel. In the top half of the illumination, the page is crowded with the cattle; there isn’t much room. The lower half has motion and space for the frogs and the duck to move around. The pebble and the speaker so it seems, prize freedom over selfless Love. This argument between the clod and pebble evokes the sounds of frogs in the illumination. Also the personification of Love here is an early modern tradition (Petrarchan tradition?), together with the ballad form, is a demonstration of Romantic poetry adhering to poetic traditions.

2 thoughts on “On “The Clod and the Pebble””

  1. I really like how you opened up this close reading. I think maybe you and others might be interested in this poem for the very reason that it personifies intimate objects. This is something unfamiliar becoming familiar. And maybe you, like myself, are fascinated with the way poems are able to embody these lifeless objects and create something that we, as humans, can relate to. Maybe in a project down the road you can touch on that ability of poets to make the unfamiliar familiar. Overall great job, I can really see your interest of this poem come through!! 🙂

  2. I like how you analyze Blake’s illumination as an extension of the corresponding poem. As you point out in your analysis, the contrasts between the two halves of the illustration add an important layer of visual context to the poem. Even the simple inclusion of decorative lines around the text, which mirror the stream’s vines, add to the sense of movement and liveliness in the lower half of the illustration.

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