In ‘The Clod and the Pebble), love is presented as both selfish and selfless, through the symbols of the soft, humble ‘clod’ (of earth/dirt) and the clean, but hard ‘pebble’.
Firstly in this poem, the ‘clod of clay’ sings about the selflessness of love and the joy it brings others. ‘Clay’ represents mortality, the humble clay from which Adam was taken in Genesis, emphasised by the alliteration of the soft ‘cl’ sound. This image of malleability is also shown where it is ‘trodden with the cattle’s feet’, where the harsh plosives suggest that violence is done to it, yet it remains joyful. This is shown in the refrain ‘Love seeketh not itself to please’. The repetition of ‘itself’ and the negatives ‘not’ and ‘nor’ present this type of love as one of self-denial, or selflessness. The rhyme of ‘please’ and ‘ease’ show that its desires are only for the love-object, to whom it ‘gives’ up its own comfort. The second refrain ‘builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair’ brings a spiritual dimension to the love, showing its ability to transform, through the antithesis – ‘Hell’ into ‘Heaven’.
Blake uses direct speech to present the opposing views of the clod/pebble. He links and contrasts them through the refrains in the first and final lines of their respective stanzas, setting them in balance against each other. The present tense ‘Love seeketh’ has a gnomic/wisdom tone, as if it is eternally true – yet Blake shows us totally contradictory views. This shows that each person may be totally convinced of the truth of their own belief – however widely varying, as where he says the pebble spoke ‘metres meet’. The homophone emphasises the pun and irony – that the pebble’s view is totally wrong, as suggested by the clumsy, congested sounds in ‘warbling’ in contrast to the ‘clod’ who simply ‘sung’ – with connotations of hymn or prayer.
The personification of the pebble suggests hardness, in the harsh plosives of its name, as well as ‘brook’. Its location in a river implies being washed clean, yet its physical purity is juxtaposed with its spiritual selfishness. Its refrain reverses the selflessness of the Clod, saying love seeks ‘only self’ to please, and the consequences in the final line are also reversed, that this attitude ‘builds a Hell in Heaven’ – another image of transformation, again negative. The love of the pebble is possessive, seeking to ‘bind another’ only to its ‘delight’ while it actually ‘joys’ in others’ ‘loss of ease’. This phrase echoes that of the Clod, which ‘gives its ease’ and again reverses it.
Through the dramatic monologues of the clod and pebble, Blake uses clever reversals and repetition to show how selfless love – like that of Christ – has almost miraculous power, to transform even ‘Hell’ into ‘Heaven’. Unusually, Blake presents the negative view last, but the negative persuasion of the vile pebble is arguably more powerful than the uplifting message of the clod who speaks first.
Wordcount: 486 Grade: Top Grade