There is purpose for the use of the images with the poem in Blake’s work. For “The Clod and the Pebble,” Blake has used his organization of his image surrounding the poem for the purpose of emphasizing the main theme of this poem. The connecting theme of the poem is trying to convey how love, something very pure, can be turned into the opposite of what it is meant to represent, due to experiences. Blake made strategic choices in the layout and format of this poem, however, that echoes a certain religious purpose as well.
The use of images paired with the wording mirrors an idea that George Ferguson has put forward. In Ferguson’s book “Signs & Symbols in Christian Art,” the idea is put forth that images are what make humans feel closer to God. According to Ferguson, “spiritual aspiration” is what each Christian strives for and “no words have ever been found that are adequate to give it satisfactory expression” (Ferguson 7). Blake is not a stranger to the Christian religion. His many references to Adam, Eve, and God in his other poems are clear evidence of familiarity. In order to elevate his writing to an ethereal place, Blake pairs his poems with the images. The superficial meaning of the manipulation of love can be balanced by Blake’s need to also enlighten the reader’s soul. Using Ferguson’s theory of Christians seeking a sense of spirituality through art, Blake’s strategy of using both words and images is meant to inspire readers to another level.
The actual beginning and end of the poem are very similar. Blake edits the phrase “builds a Heaven in Hells despair” for the end of the first stanza and the end of the poem itself. Though the tone has changed, the words and the symmetry of the poem has not. Blake uses his own words to create a flow from the start of the poem to the end. Blake is trying to convey the irony in using the same words to mean something completely opposite. Love can be used in the same way. Blake, however, pairs this poem with an image in order to make the poem bigger than just the superficial theme.
The picture paired with “The Clod and the Pebble” follows the same physical structure as the words. The writings are framed by two similar horizontal landscapes. Though the content is different, there is a sense of sameness that each half of the picture contains. There are clearly divided lines, creating the three separate sections. The separate sections in the image also coincide with the three stanzas that are in the poem. Once again, Blake is echoing the idea that Ferguson puts forth about using art as a way to reach a new spiritual closeness to God. Not only is Blake using pictures, but also he uses the holy trinity in his poem. Three lines for each stanza with three stanzas. Blake is marrying the worlds of creativity and Christian ideals. The picture is taking the original meaning only the words provide, and turning the poem into an experience instead of just a lesson.
The importance of the different animals and organization of the panels comes into play when acknowledging Blake’s need to elevate his work. The top half of the image (pairing with the first half of the poem) can be once again given a face value meaning. The cattle represents the cattle mentioned in the poem. The choice of using the cattle has a hidden Christian meaning as well. “The ass and the ox symbolize that the humblest and the least of animal creation were present when Jesus was born” (Ferguson 11). Blake chose the cattle as the representation of innocence for this reason. He used illustration to reach to higher level with his poem, combined with the Christian meaning of animals.
The ox and the ass are lowly creatures that are meant to be herded and guided. They know no experiences to learn and grow beside what their masters allow. The clod which is aligned with the cattle has the same idea of love. The clod is like the ox in that he knows only little that he has experienced.
The tone of the poem in the start is echoing that of the Songs of Innocence. “Love seeketh not Itself to please” (Blake 32). Love is portrayed as this pure and innocent object. Love is not meant to be complicated, or have any other purpose than to serve others and to be selfless. The cattle, though in a herd, are not crowded or snapping at one another. They know their purpose is to serve their masters and go as they are prodded.
Ducks are not animals that are restricted to one way of life. They can swim, they can waddle, and they can fly. They are complicated creatures that do not need guidance on where to go. They are not in control of humans at all. For now, the duck is sitting in the brook along with the pebble, but there is no say on how long he will stay. Experience manipulates people’s philosophies, mentalities, and ultimately their lives. Birds are also “representations of the soul” which also echoes Blake’s idea of experience (Ferguson 13). Blake is trying to show how something even as innocent as love can be just as damaged by reality as anything else. Using the birds as a representation can show how the soul can also be manipulated and changed. With the use of words and images, Blake is showing the evolution of the soul from innocence to experience. Moving from the top to the bottom of the image is showing the overlying theme of “The Clod and the Pebble”.
Blake is using his words and images in order to fully express the theme of his poem. The overarching development of innocence into experience by the medium of love is shown from the beginning to the end. Using the images and structure of the words paired with the picture, Blake is trying to convey a deeper meaning that words alone may not have satisfied. Ferguson’s work on the connection of soul inspiration and images helps support Blake’s purpose for pairing the two art forms together. Blake did not shy away from religious themes in his work, which is why Ferguson’s philosophy, which is rooted in Christian values, works so well with Blake’s way of writing.
Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and Experience. Mount Vernon: Peter Pauper, 1937. Print.
Ferguson, George. Signs & Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford UP, 1959. Print.