The Lilly - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Blake uses three natural images common in literary, popular and religious tales.

The rose – This is a literary symbol of love, especially sexual love. It is also linked with mortality, a sign of the transience of human love and beauty. It, therefore, links sex and death. Here, the symbol of the rose is combined with a reminder of its physical reality, the thorn. Thus, the love represented by the rose has sources of defence and means of causing harm and pain.

The sheep – Due to biblical allusions, sheep suggest innocence and simplicity. They need a shepherd, are unthreatening and vulnerable. However, Blake reminds us of the reality of the animal. It, too, has a source of defence and a means of causing harm and pain.

Lily, photo by Ernst Gügel, available through Creative CommonsThe lily - In traditional Christian iconography, the lily signifies virginity. It is a flower traditionally associated with Easter and funerals – it speaks of death not as an end but as a passing into eternal life. However, in Boehme's writings (which influenced Blake), the lily is a symbol of the new world to come, a state of perfection. Blake rejected the aspect of ‘the world to come' but used the lily as a symbol of love which is without any self–reference, neither defending itself or causing any pain and destruction.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • What do you think of when you read those terms ‘rose', ‘sheep' and ‘lily'?
    • In what way do they differ from Blake's use?


The effects of the Fall

Human relationships are affected by fallen, divided selfhood which sees itself at the centre of its world as something to be to be protected and defended. Its pleasures must be jealously defended and denied to others. One chief pleasure is exerting control over others, which can often masquerade as showing protective love.

Investigating themes

Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.