The Clod and the Pebble - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Love - In the clod's description of love, Blake makes use of the imagery of Paul's ‘hymn to love' (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Further New Testament teaching emphasises that true love includes being completely humble, gentle and patient, ‘bearing with one another' (Ephesians 4:2) and being devoted to others, honouring them above the self (Romans 12:10). Blake's readers would be familiar with this teaching and thus associate the clod's statements with ideal Christian love.

For another gives its ease – The idea of sacrificing personal liberty for the sake of others would remind Blake's readers of Jesus who gave his life for others in a cruel death. According to John's Gospel, this is the greatest demonstration of love (John 15:13) and is the motivation for Christians to love others (Ephesians 5:2), including those who disregard them (Luke 6:27-35). This association would elevate the worth of the clod.

Potter at the wheelClay – The image of clay personified may allude to the biblical idea that God is the ‘potter' who has fashioned humanity from the earth (see Isaiah 64:8). As such, it is not up to the clay to protest at how it is used (Isaiah29:16) but to accept its role (Romans 9:21). Blake echoes the lowly status associated with clay in the clod's selflessness and submission to the ‘cattle's feet'

Heaven and hell - In traditional Christianity, heaven and hell are states to which people are sent after death. Heaven means eternally dwelling in the presence of God, which is the fate of the faithful. Hell means eternally being removed from God's presence and is thus a place of punishment for those who have rebelled. God is the judge of the person's destination. See Big ideas from the Bible > Judgement. For Blake, however, these were not ‘other worldly' places reserved for an after-life. He believed heaven and hell co–existed in people's minds, and thus were created by people for themselves.

Build heaven – The apparent paradox of creating heaven out of hell echoes the paradoxical Christian teaching that new life is achieved through death (John 12:24-25), and that Jesus opened up access to God / heaven by being cut off from God's presence / hell (prior to his resurrection). It also alludes to the Romantic philosophy of human free will. See Literature in context > Making sense of the intangible world > Determinism and free will.

Freedom and bondage – Picking up the prison imagery of Earth's Answer, the clod gives ease / liberty to those it loves, whilst the pebble binds another to itself and rejoices in their bondage. The pebble could therefore represent the ‘jealous', ‘cruel‘ God of Earth's complaint, or alternatively the clod should be associated with the freedom Christians believe Christ offers (Luke 4:18).

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • Look up 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and some of the other references above
    • What similarities do you find between these and the clod's viewpoint?


The contraries of existence

According to Blake, ‘contraries' are facts about the world and about the nature of the creative force behind it. For example, ferocious power and energy exist alongside what is fragile and tender. When either one of these dimensions is excluded from the picture, unhealthy splits between what are understood as forces of good and forces of evil are created.

In The Clod and the Pebble, human experience includes both heaven and hell. It is people's choices that mean their current life is heavenly and/or hellish. The powerful energies within the world and the energies and instincts within human beings are necessary and beautiful. They become destructive when they are denied or seen as the only factor in life and experience.

Investigating themes

  • Compare the use of this theme with On Another's Sorrow where the existence of the pebble's perspective is rejected.
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