The Lamb - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

The poem depends upon the repetition of the question and answer framework. This echoes what all children in the Church of England had to learn before confirmation, the question and answer structure of the catechism. Thus the poem is associated with religious instruction. At the same time, it can be associated with the innocent pleasure of children asking riddles. In this way, it manages to use the device of repeated rhetorical questions without appearing to use adult art.

The childlike voice also depends upon the cumulative effect of repeating words associated with gentleness – ‘mead (a lush meadow)', ‘delight', ‘softest', ‘woolly', ‘tender', ‘meek', ‘mild'. The preponderance of L and M sounds reinforces the flowing, soft implications of the language. It reinforces the impression of a child's voice and the softness of the lamb. The reader is lulled into accepting this vision of lamb and child. It is only when s/he begins to reflect upon those aspects of the biblical lamb and child not mentioned that it becomes clear that this gentle perspective is attractive, but incomplete.

Investigating language and tone

  • Write a series of short statements then re-write them as rhetorical questions
    • In what ways do the effects of these two pieces of writing differ?
    • Which is more effective in getting a response?

Structure and versification

The Lamb is in rhymed couplets in a basic trochaic metre. This metre is often found in children's verse and so enhances the impression of simplicity. The opening and closing couplets of each stanza change by employing a spondee ‘made thee', which makes them more emphatic and slows the reader down.

The patterning of repetition, with difference in the opening and closing couplets, frames the questions and answers. They emphasise the idea that this is a catechism or, alternatively, a child's riddle. Think how often riddles and jokes use a similar patterning of repetition.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Can you think of a child's joke or riddle that uses this same pattern?
    • What is its effect?
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