The Lily: Poem by William Blake - Summary and Analysis

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The Lily

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

 Summary and Analysis


     Blake's idea in 'The Lily' is to simply depict that in love there is danger and treachery where we least expect it; but genuine innocence and love are not completely lost, it still exists. 'The Lily' brings out the attitude of the lily flower which accepts the warmth of love open-heartedly. The poet goes on to hold that purity does not involve a rejection or refusal of love but a ready welcome of it.

The lily is, as we have seen, a symbol of requiting love or mutual warmth of love.
The Lily


      The lily is, as we have seen, a symbol of requiting love or mutual warmth of love. It is held in contrast with the rose which Is beautiful, appealing and fragrant but thorny. The poet takes the thorns of the rose as a drawback, a symbol of resistance against the gentle emotion of love. Sheep are also humble but wIth their horns they defend themselves. But the lily has no thorn nor is its heart so cold as to reject the warmth of love. Hence the lily's superiority and genuine unblemished nature.

The Message of the Poem:

      The poet's intention in praising the lily's acceptance of love is to show that love and such tender emotions are to be exchanged freely and frankly and this trank dealing makes a thing all the more beautiful. Then only the 'thing of beauty' becomes a joy for ever. The lily is a symbol of purity and its purity is further made prominent by its white colour. But for Blake its purity originates from its capacity or readiness to accept love. This poem may also be interpreted as: "Most innocent and beautiful things have one defect which mars their perfection; but the lily is perfect, perfect beauty and meekness. and is therefore a perfect symbol of love." 

Contraries Exist Manually:

      On the thematic and structural meaning of the poem 'The Lily' Arthur Symons says: " In his earlier work, the symbol still interests him, he accepts it without dispute; with indeed, a kind of transfiguring love. Thus he writes of the lamb and the tiger, of the joy and sorrow of infants, of the fly and the lily, as no poet of mere observation has ever written of them, going deeper into their essence than Wordsworth ever went into the heart of daffodils, or Shelley into the nerves of the sensitive plant. He takes only the simplest flowers or weeds and the most innocent or most destroying of animals and he uses them as illustrations of the divine attributes. From the same flower and beast he can read contrary lessons without change of meaning, by the mere transposition of qualities, as in poem 'The Lily.'

The Sun-flower, Lily and Rose:

      It is interesting to compare and contrast Blake's delineation of flowers to understand his purpose of bringing out the disparity and diversity of human sentiments and emotions. Let us consider the maiden 'Queen of A Dream' since her approach towards the angelic lover resembles the attitude of the Rose in 'The Lily'. Going by the traditional social norm of human virtues, we may say that the maiden Queen displays modesty and so she is ar to the modest Rose in the poem 'The Lily'. The thorns that the Rose puts are precisely the shields and 'spears' worn by the 'maiden Queen'. But the Lily does not attempt to protect itself because:

The Lily white shal in love delight...

      It leaves itself open to love's delight and its beauty is like that of light, the familiar and widely known image of creation. The Lily is the passionate recipient of love. We wonder why the poet selects the lily, which is traditionally celebrated as a symbol of purity and chastity to convey his ideas. The answer is very clear His selection of lily "suggests that his observation was both original and serious." The traditional point of view describing the lily as the symbol of purity and rose as representing sensuality scarcely operates upon the active and unfathomable intelligence of the poet. This is the best example we may cite to argue that Blake employs his own private symbols and terms of reference for communicating his private and personal perceptions of experience. For Blake purity lies in free play of instinct - thus the lily's traditional associations with purity gains complex dimensions.

      Relatively, Sun-flower is superior to the Lily. It is 'weary of time', it seeks that "Sweet golden Clime" where there is neither time nor travelling and searching because it is the ultimate goal of its achievement. There, the youth who pined away with desire whilst on the night-bound earth, and 'the pale Virgin shrouded in snow', who is the youth's frustrated tormentor and co-sufferer, feel their fulfilment in the sun. There this sun works as a creative life source.

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