The Clod and the Pebble - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

There is confidence to the language of the opening stanza, with its biblical echo. This is also evident in the assured use of paradox in the fourth line. This is reinforced by the use of repetition in ‘not itself … / nor for itself … / But for another'. Blake is employing the rhetorical device of repeating three ideas (sometimes called ‘the rule of three).

The alliteration in ‘little clod of clay' highlights the identity of the speaker. It also underlines the contrast between it and the loftiness of the way in which it sings. If there is pathos in the ‘little' it does not necessarily make the clod appear more attractive, only more vulnerable.

‘Warbled' and ‘metres meet' make the pebble sound delicate and refined (but are perhaps used ironically). This intensifies the impact of its harsh message. It may also serve to suggest the real heartlessness that can lie beneath a decorous and charming manner.

The use of repetition with variation between first and third stanzas serves to underline the distinction between these two kinds of love, making the second potentially more attractive. ‘Delight' and ‘joy' seem only to figure in the vocabulary and experience of the pebble. This is further emphasised by the position of ‘Joys' placed emphatically at the beginning of the line and by its nature as a verb. Joy here is not simply felt or received, it is actively undergone and experienced.

The clod's love appears to have no pleasure to accompany it, other than the awareness of ‘building heaven' and its ability to ‘sing'. Having the views of the pebble placed after those of the clod also gives weight to the latter argument.

Investigating language and tone

  • Try substituting less delicate words for ‘warbled' and ‘metres meet'?
    • What would be the effect?
    • Would ‘a big clod' or simply ‘a clod' be as effective?
      • Notice how apparently insignificant words may have important effects.

Structure and versification

The ABAB rhyme pattern of stanza one and three reinforces the impression of self-contained, undisputed opinions or maxims. The middle stanza differs - lines 1 and 3 do not rhyme. We are jolted from our expectations of pattern and harmony. The change from iambic to trochaic metre in the line beginning ‘Trodden' also emphasises the battered state of the clay.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Do you think the lack of one pair of rhymes in the middle stanza is deliberate?
    • How would you answer someone who said it was just poor craftsmanship on Blake's part?
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