The Lilly - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

Blake uses pattern with difference to underline the distinctions between each symbol. In the phrases ‘modest rose' and ‘humble sheep', the adjective precedes the noun, whereas in ‘lilly white', it is after the noun. The difference in position invites the reader to contrast these adjectives:

  • ‘Modest' and ‘humble' are both moral qualities, esteemed by Blake's contemporary religious world. ‘Modest' also suggests not only being self-effacing but being aware of shame, too. Modest people do not flaunt their bodies
  • White however, is symbolically, rather than overtly, moral, and at its simplest just denotes a colour, untainted by artifice.

Investigating language and tone

  • What are the conventional connotations of ‘stain' and how does Blake employ it here?

Structure and versification

The closed rhyming couplets suggest axioms, allowing no question or argument. The regularity of the iambic metre in the first two lines is, however, ‘freed up' by the mixture of anapaests and iambs in the lines about the lily, aided by the fluid L alliteration in l.3.

The rhymes also reinforce the distinction between rose/sheep and the lily – ‘thorn', ‘horn'; ‘delight', ‘bright'. The internal rhyme in line three creates a slight pause which serves to emphasise the ‘white – delight' rhyme.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Does the predictability of the rhyming couplets make you as a reader more, or less, inclined to accept the argument of the poem?
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