The Lamb - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of The lamb

The speaker, a child, asks a series of rhetorical questions of a lamb. They emphasise the soft, tender nature of the lamb and the gentleness of its way of life. The first stanza ends with the central rhetorical question ‘Little Lamb, who made thee?

In the second stanza, the speaker answers the question posed, referring to a specific ‘He' (without offering a name). The accumulated references to the lamb's creator point to ‘He' as being Jesus Christ. According to the New Testament, Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth as a human child, and is also referred to as a lamb. The speaker says that children and lambs have something in common because they are both ‘called by the name' of Jesus i.e. bearing his likeness. The child ends by asking God to bless the lamb.

Blake's The Lamb does three key things:

  • It develops the symbolism of shepherd, sheep and lambs encountered in The Shepherd, which forms a central image in the whole sequence of Songs of Innocence
  • It begins to explore the nature of the world and of its maker
  • It introduces the theme of the vulnerability of innocence, and of the incomplete vision of the innocent speaker.

Watch The Lamb

Accompanying teaching resources


Childlike simplicity

This is a deceptively simple poem. The use of a child narrator and of the simple device of a child talking to a lamb produces a first impression of naivety and freshness. It is generally recognised that little children have an affinity with baby, soft, animals and will speak to them as though to another human. This effect is enhanced by the simple language and the repetition. In the second stanza, the effect continues through the child's play with the lamb. S/he wants to play riddles with it. The reader expects a simple child's verse.

A selective view of creation

The second stanza, however, is not quite so simple. The child does not present the full story. S/he sees only one aspect of creation and the creator:

  • Conventional Christianity sees creation as the work of the Trinity and tends to think particularly of God the Father in this respect
  • However, the child only presents Jesus as the creator, the aspect of God in human form
  • Thus the speaker represents only a God who is with - and like - humankind. There is no God ‘beyond', acting and creating in awe and majesty
  • The Jesus portrayed in the poem is meek, mild, gentle. He is reflected in his creations, child and lamb
  • It seems as though these qualities are what Blake wants his readers to identify in creation.

A veiled warning

Blake knows that his readers would have a fuller picture of Jesus than is represented by the child:

  • Jesus' forbearance was in the face of human hostility, injustice and aggression. His title the ‘Lamb of God' signified sacrifice and death
  • To be a lamb or a child is to be vulnerable – lambs are eaten!

So there are forces at play in creation beyond what the child can see. And if they are in creation, might they also not be in the creator? This would follow the child's logic.

So the poem isn't simply an affirmation of the innocence of the child:

  • It demonstrates the limitations of innocence when it excludes experience
  • It exposes what is tender and gentle as vulnerable and open to danger
  • Meanwhile, it also denies the positive potential of other human characteristics. The New Testament picture of Jesus also shows his strength and justifiable anger when he turns corrupt money-changers out of the Temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-17).

Although the first impression is that the poem is focussed on the nature of the creator this is misleading. The true focus is on the limitations of the child speaker who represents innocence divorced from experience. In this, it is a counterpart to The Tyger, one of the Songs of Experience

Investigating the meaning of The Lamb

  • The child does not answer his own question directly
    • What effect does this create in you as a reader?
  • Do you think this poem is really about a lamb or is it about the maker of the lamb?
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