The Clod and The Pebble: by William Blake - Summary & Analysis

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The Clod and The Pebble

‘‘Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives it ease,
And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.’’

So sang 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.’’

Summary and Analysis


      Perhaps the poem 'The Clod and The Pebble' is a pellucid amplification of the Petrarchan and masochist views of love. The 'Clod' stands in favour of selfless love, the love that leads the lover to abnegate his own personal and private and, in a sense, selfish appeasements. This very point of view is negated when the fragile clod is crushed under the feet of cattle. The clod of clay invariably pertains to the state of Innocence according to which love is self-sacrificing. But this kind of love crumbles to pieces under the heavy feet of Experience. On the contrary, the pebble's viewpoint is more plausible. The pebble is cold and solid and it finds love tormenting, overpowering and tyrannical and selfishly possessive.

The pebble is cold and solid and it finds love tormenting, overpowering and tyrannical and selfishly possessive.
The Clod and The Pebble

      From yet another angle, the poem has a different bearing. The clod which ie smooth, submissive and pliant connotes the extreme of feminine nature. The pebble which has comparatively a solid, inflexible, massive structure hints at the extreme of masculine nature. These two natures are visibly apparent in any sexual relationship.


      Neither complete submission nor exclusively selfish tyranny yields the much sought after bliss of love because either extremes are futile and ineffective. Standing by the view of the 'Clod' we can see that its words are fallacious and erroneous. A selfless love may find it suitable to live in total subservience and resignedness and submit to the humiliation of tyranny but finally it becomes disgusting and provokes contempt in the mate. The clod that assumes the mild nature is soon lost in the sand for it is crumbled to pieces by the active and alert legs of experience. The clod's view, however, sounds impeccable when we see it in the light of human love or mercy or philanthropist. The other extreme view is held by the pebble. In the eyes of the pebble love is ruthless and tyrannous. It has the tendency to overbear others and exploit them. One who is involved in such a love, the pebble contends, looks forward to enjoying the loved one's loss of comfort. As a matter of fact that sort of lover is replacing the heavenly and natural rapture with a host of hellish suffering.

      Of these two contentions, the pebble's point is closer to the world of Experience.

The Dual Nature:

      Blake's maxim that the human soul is made of contrary elements can be applied here also. Instinct and imagination or the beastly and divine nature of man are necessary for a fuller life of the soul and for its progress. It is a grievous mistake to sanctify the lamb and turn an eye of defiance towards the tiger. Blake opposes such a view and gives equal prominence to both sense and soul, the wild and meek aspects of human being.

A Reasonable Evaluation:

      Wolf Mankowitz says that in this poem the paradox of love against 'Love' is dealt with in the allegory of the Clod and the Pebble. Here the Clod asserts:

"Love seeketh not itself to please."

      Now this is a clear account of the current idea of 'Love'. It is self surrender, self denial, acceptable to the kingdom of Heaven, in the sense in which that phrase is loosely used in Christian society. But what is the fate of the Christian Clod?

"So sang a little Clod of Clay

Trodden with the cattle's feet."

      It is little, soft, passive and though it could be argued that as clay it is the primal stuff out of which Man was made, we still would find it difficult to believe that it's fate to be trodden by the feet of cattle, is anything but undignified and uncreative. The resilient pebble, on the other hand, is far less Christian in its statement of the nature of love:

"But a pebble of the brook

Warbled out these metres meet."

      (Let us note that Blake considers the Pebble's argument 'meet' or appropriate to the situation).

"Love seeketh only Self to please

To bind another to its delight.

Joy in another's loss of ease

And builds Hell in Heaven's despite"

      This argument is not as immediately acceptable as that of the Clod. Reacting from the same ideological position as the Clod occupies we find the attitude of the Pebble aggressive and lacking in consideration and tenderness. But an examination of Blake's words reveals that his experience is something quite other than our reaction to its statement. The Pebble's love is concerned with preserving and extending itself. It binds another to its 'delight', 'joys' in another's loss of ease. The delight and joy which are the condition of love, the words are the same both here and in the 'Sick Rose' follow the binding and the loss of ease. Submission of 'another to the condition of love is the surrendering of self-interest and self-concern to the demands of relationship. The relationship is a complex experience and for those who accept the clod's definition it is Hell. But, one feels, it is a Hell in which pride is scarcely culpable, for in Blake's context pride is what preserves the Pebble wholly itself; though in the brook the waters are always passing over it, it remains untouched.

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