The Clod and the Pebble (William Blake, 1794)
“Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”
So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:
“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”
William Blake, writing in the eighteenth century, was an unusual fellow (take a close gander at his drawing above), a printer by trade and a great poet by vocation. He quite unaffectedly combined in his person and poetry a certain childlikeness that can catch you off guard with its pointedness, like a child’s penetrating stare, a sharp goad to the smug and self-righteous. The above poem is an instance of this.
For starters, “The Clod and the Pebble” makes you wonder at the order of the stanzas, whether they weren’t inverted accidentally in the printer’s press. Why, after all, let the Pebble have the last word? Why not the inglorious Clod? But that wouldn’t be Blakean at all! Imagine a child fed at Sunday School the sweet word of God by one in the robe of authority who sees that same one later in the week intemperately cursing the day an incorrigible brother was born. Which impression is the lasting one? Which would it be to you? It was hardly random that Blake chose to include this poem in his Songs of Innocence and Experience collection under Songs of Experience.
The deceptively simple verse leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, like the world usually does, like worldliness in ourselves when we catch ourselves at it.
It makes me wonder too, as I walk the road of sanctification as we all must as Christians, how far down the road have I come? Am I still more of the Pebble than the Clod?
And one last thought. Doesn’t the last word of the poem resonate with a particularly fine invocation of Satan’s response to God’s creation of Eden?