“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.”
This poem is part of a larger poetic and theological project. This project, called the Songs of Innocence and Experience, juxtaposes the innocency of childhood and the experience of the adult. In Blake’s theology, both innocence and experience seem like opposites, but they are not. Blake describes them as “contrary states of the Human soul.” Blake seeks to point out the deficiencies of both innocence and experience and embrace both in a new unity. We see parallels to this in his work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake’s theology is not orthodox. But his willingness to portray the evil and darkness of the Industrial Revolution and the dreadful “Tyger” will help keep the orthodox Christian from falling into the tempting trap of theodicy.
The Clod and the Pebble contrasts the love of the clod with the love of the pebble. The clod is lowly and contemptible. And yet, the clod is the stuff from which God made Adam. Its love is self-sacrificing and thinks only of the other. The pebble, warbling “meters meet” from the stream, says that love is selfish. The pebble is hardened by its experience in the world and endures the constant flowing of the stream as the clod is flattened by hooves. The pebble will endure because of its selfishness; the clod will not.
The applications of this poem for the Christian are manifold. One might contrast the world’s love with Christ’s love. Christ, like the clod, was considered lowly and contemptible, and His love finally destroyed Him upon the cross. One might also draw from this that Christian love is considered contemptible or cloddish by the experienced world. One might use the imagery of the hardness of heart to describe selfish love. One might also use this contrast between innocence and experience to speak on the role of God’s Word in our lives. Love must be learned from the innocent and spotless Lamb of God, through the pages of Holy Writ. If we base our love upon experience, we will inevitably end up hardened, selfish, and alone.