The Clod & The Pebble by William Blake

The Clod & the Pebble

William Blake (1757 - 1827)

“Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.”

So sung a little clod of clay,
Trodden with the cattle’s feet;
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these meters meet:

“Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven’s despite.”

The Clod and the Pebble by William Blake is from a collection of poems called the Songs of Experience. Succeeding the Songs of Innocence, Blake explores the themes of love and the human spirit through the personification of a clod of clay and a pebble in a brook. Blake confers completely contrary convictions to the clod and the pebble which compliment the diametrically opposed views on the nature of love expressed in the poem.

The clod is depicted as believing that love is primarily a selfless, altruistic and compassionate emotion which is evident in the line: ‘love seeketh not itself to please’. Even though the clod of clay has been repeatedly ‘trodden with the cattle’s feet’ the clod remains forgiving, flexible and transformable as it accepts this situation as its purpose with a sense of innocence. The clod sings with clarity its representation of love as good and eternally giving and describes love as an unconditional and self sacrificing expression that would give its own comfort for the sake of another, as it optimistically ‘builds a heaven in hell’s despair’.

The structure of Blake’s compact yet eloquent poem is in two contrasting halves which reflect the thematic dichotomy of the poem. The tone of the first half speaks of a happiness and innocence that may exist regardless of external circumstances. The second half which is succinctly introduced with an apprehensive ‘But’ as the pebble has quite the opposite tone as it warbles out its experienced and pessimistic belief that love destroys an otherwise peaceful existence.

The pebble is described as viewing love primarily as a vain, arrogant and selfish emotion as denoted in the line: ‘love seeketh only self to please’. Even though the pebble’s life is more tranquil than that of the clod, it remains a hard and unmoving personification. The pebble ‘finds joy in another’s loss of ease’ rendering it as sadistic and antithetical to the clod. The pebble believes the concept of love is a painful obligation or entrapment that is to be endured and pessimistically ‘builds a hell in heaven’s despite’.

The poem uses a variety of literary devices to reflect the theme of love’s dichotomous nature. The predominant figures are the personifications of the clod and the pebble which are represented as possessing and expressing human emotions.

The clod has been moulded and shaped by its conditions and in spite of the negative experiences of being downtrodden, the clod emerges as enlightened and believing in a more perfect and selfless love. The clod remains malleable, soft and open in spite of it’s experiences and is ruled by its love for others.

The brook is a small river in which the water symbolically represents a connection between the realm of innocence, virtue and purity and that of experience, materialism and worldliness. The water representing the state of experience flows over the pebble leaving it unchanged and yet experienced and set in its opinions. Even though the pebble has never experienced being trodden upon and has only ever enjoyed the caressing comfort of the current in the brook, the pebble is hard and is ruled by it’s love for itself.

The symbolism inherent in the concepts of heaven and hell draws on pre-existing imagery of spiritual places of peace and joy, and evil and suffering, respectively. The clod is optimistic and capable is creating its own heavenly love in spite of its hellish circumstances whereas the pebble’s serene and comfortable existence ironically leaves it pessimistic and capable of finding hellish flaws in an environment more conducive to heavenly love.

The contrasting views Blake encapsulates in this beautifully succinct poem of innocence and experience, reflects the diverse range of human experiences of love. The unconventional personifications of the contented clod of clay and the propitious but peevish pebble are a timeless representation of the selflessness and selfishness still evident in modern contemporary creative commentaries on the theme of love.