1. In this poem, the speaker asks a lamb a simple question: “Who made thee?” In the first stanza, the speaker would like to know if the lamb is aware of who gave it life, who gave it its “clothing wooly bright”, and who gave it its “tender voice”. As readers, we get a good sense of where we are when he describes the setting as being “by the stream and o’er the mead” as well as a good picture of what the lamb looks like. We are aware that the lamb is unable to understand and therefore answer the question, but when we find out later that the speaker is a child this complication can then be excused. We also find that the lamb is considered a “good” creature, one that makes “all the vales rejoice!”
In the second stanza the speaker reveals that he will answer his own question when he announces “Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!” He explains to the lamb that its maker is someone who has the same name and also “calls himself a lamb”. The symbol of a lamb is also a well-known reference to Jesus from the Christian Bible, making this an apparent Biblical allusion. Jesus is often referred to as a lamb because he was often described as “meek and mild” as well as vulnerable and guileless. A lamb has mild voice, is decorated in soft “clothing” and is also vulnerable to predators, just as Jesus was in the Bible.
Next, he says that they share the same creator when Blake writes “I a child and thou a lamb, / We are called by his name.” Here, Blake is comparing the gentleness of Jesus to the qualities of both the child and lamb. In the end, the speaker offers a blessing to the little lamb when he says “Little Lamb God bless thee”.
2. The speaker of this poem is a child as he reveals in line 17 when he says “I a child and thou a lamb”. The persona of a child is very typical in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence poems, such as this one. In this poem, the child speaker asks a very “child-like” question. The fact that the child is talking to an animal is also not unusual. This would be much different if it was written from the perspective of an adult character. The companion poem “The Tyger” from Blake’s Songs of Experience is much more complicated and explores the darker and more evil side of human nature and Christianity, while this poem stays much softer and lighter since it is coming from the point of view of an innocent child.
3. The poem is separated into two stanzas. Each stanza consists of five rhyming couplets. The first and last couplets of each stanza are repeated, making the poem feel more like a song. The poem contains soothing sounds, soft words, and long vowels which help to make it flow nicely and easily. One could even say that the repetitive soft sounds could be compared to that of a bleating lamb and its song-like quality seems to fit the theme of a young child speaking to a little lamb.
4. The language of the poem is kept very simple, much like the language of a child. The form appears to be similar to that of a nursery rhyme or child’s song. The question that the child poses is also a simple one that includes an easy answer, even though it may imply deeper thought from the reader. After all, humanity is always seeking an answer as to where we came from and how we were created. This is really a question that has been discussed by scholars for centuries. However, the child accepts the answer confidently, showing how easily he receives the Christian faith without questioning it, just as children tend to do. This makes us as readers ponder over whether or not we, too, should be as little children when asking this question, as Jesus tells us to do in the Bible, instead of looking too far into it like we tend to do as adults.
The language of the first stanza is mostly descriptive, giving us a setting (“By the stream and o’er the mead”) and describing what the lamb looks like (Gave thee clothing of delight, / Softest clothing wooly bright;”) and how it sounds (“Gave thee such a tender voice, / Making all the vales rejoice!”). The second stanza contains language of more abstract ideas by answering the question (“Little Lamb I’ll tell thee”) and talking about spiritual concerns such as Jesus, the one who “calls himself a lamb” and discussing a more religious and philosophical idea. The first stanza contains a metaphor comparing the child to the lamb while the second stanza contains a metaphor that compares the lamb to Jesus. Overall, even though the subject matter in itself might come off as fairly profound, the child is asking and answering a question which, to him, is very simple and in a very simple and easy to understand language.
5. The problem I find with this poem is that, because it is coming from a child’s point of view, it fails to consider a more realistic approach to the question that it asks and the answer that it poses. For example, the child knows nothing of evil or of the darkness that lies within humanity. Therefore the child only sees what is good and holy in the world because of his innocence and is consequently missing out on the other half of this point of view. This is why it is important to read this poem alongside William Blake’s companion poem “The Tyger” which exposes this other more dark side of humanity.
- Blake, William. “The Lamb”. The Norton Introduction to Literature. Portable 10th Edition.
- Alison Booth, J. Paul Hunter and Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2006. Print.