A Cradle Song - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Infant [child] - For Blake the idea of the child had specific associations with Christ, which he expected his contemporaries to recognise. The concept of ‘mother and child' would immediately make Blake's readers think of the iconography of Jesus with his mother, Mary. It would also seem normal for the mother singing to her child to think of the infant Jesus.

For Blake, children were images of innocence and gentleness as well as being vulnerable and subject to human cruelty. In this poem, the Christ-child embodies these associations, even though the mother shies away from the more distressing dimension.

Angel – The mother clearly believes in the idea of a ‘guardian angel'. See Big ideas from the Bible > Angels (Matthew 18:10).

Thy maker / an infant small - The dimension of suffering is evoked in the line:

‘Thy maker lay and wept for me'.

Christians believe that, in Jesus, God became one with humanity. When Christ cried as a baby, he shared in the tears of all children, crying on their behalf, as it were. He also cried for all humankind, because he knew human pain and suffering as his own.

Dove - The image of the dove in the repeated ‘dove-like', emphasises the gentleness and innocence of the child. Doves are symbols of peace and also of the Holy Spirit (see Big ideas from the Bible > Dove). For the child to moan like a dove suggests the presence of the Holy Spirit in the child.


Parental authority

The mother is protective of the child but her denial of ‘woe' may leave her child ignorant in his innocence and, therefore, vulnerable.

The perception of children

Blake's idea that a young child can clearly see God echoes the Romantic sensibility articulated by Wordsworth, that children had an existence in heaven before the commencement of their earthly life. See The world of the Romantics > Making sense of the intangible world > Seventeenth and eighteenth attitudes to childhood.

God in man's image

Blake demonstrates how the mother shies away from the implications of Jesus as a ‘man of woe' to concentrate on his ‘smiles' and establishment of harmony between God and humanity. She does this according to her own need to continue denying the dangers besetting her child.

Investigating themes

  • Compare the parent figure here with one from another Blake poem
    • What is similar?
    • What differences do you find?
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