One of the most famous poems in Blake’s collection Songs of Innocence and of Experience, “The Lamb” establishes its theme quickly in the first two lines. When the narrator asks the lamb if it knows who created it, it is not calling attention to the biological parents. The narrator specifically asks about the nature of creation in the divine sense. The narrator does not think the creator is a what, but a whom, and this whom has the power to actually create life.
The narrator implies much more than eating and drinking and the home of this little lamb with these two lines. The fact that the gift of life is connected to the command to live by natural, instinctual means hints at the nature of Divine Law. These lines suggest that life, the natural life of a lamb, is a divine creation. The landscape reinforces the natural over the urban. The fact that Blake fails to mention any kind of restraint upon the lamb may also be significant.
These lines begin to suggest a second layer of meaning pertaining to the image of the lamb. They recall the swaddling cloths of the baby Jesus, and of his hair that was purported to be like “lamb’s wool.” The brightness of the lamb, and the brightness of Christ, comes from within, and also demonstrates their ability to reflect light. The whitest lamb reflects the most light.
The reference to the lamb’s voice suggests a double meaning. Of course, the bleating of lambs sounds very “tender,” but Blake refers also to the voice of Christ. The words and the speech of Christ are often thought of as “tender” because they acclaim love and “rejoice” in life itself. The “vales” also have an additional meaning. Vales are valleys, and so here the narrator once again asks the reader to think about the concept of landscape, surroundings and how one is influenced by them.
With this new repetition, one has a new perspective on the lamb. This repetition emphasizes the largess, the grandeur of creativity. Specifically, one is called upon to contemplate the creation of both a biological lamb and a figurative lamb. One is asked to consider their relationship to each other, and to the Divine.
Only now does Blake introduce his narrator in the form of “I.” One can guess that this “I” could be Blake, or one could suppose that it is the piper represented in “Introduction to Songs of Innocence.” The identity is probably not as important as the idea that this person seems to understand at some level the nature of creation, and is enthusiastic to share with the lamb and with the reader what he or she knows! The repetition hints once again at the double, subtle nature of the lamb as a concept.
Now the speaker brings the double definition of the lamb into a more obvious light. There can be no mistake that not only does the narrator refer to a biological lamb, but he also refers to Jesus Christ in the image of the lamb. Since he is writing about the nature of creation itself, then one can begin to draw conclusions about what Blake believes to be true about the spiritual as well as the mundane. Why does Blake use the word “call” twice? Perhaps, it is to illustrate the idea of being “called” into service of the Divine. Since this is a poem about creation, perhaps Blake hints that to be called to creativity is divine. This is a theme that is seen again and again in Blake’s poetry.
These lines give reference to Christ’s message that “the meek shall inherit the world” and the concept that gentleness and love is the ideal way of behaving in the world. Blake’s narrator also links the behavior of the Divine to the behavior of a little lamb. Then he makes further connection to the idea that the Creator and the little child are one and the same. One also can guess that Blake sees creativity as a childlike occupation. Furthermore, the fact that the Divine decided to actually come into the world, as any child would, gives one an understanding of one’s own nature.
Blake has fun with language in these two lines. The mystical relationship between “I” and “thou” has often been the very definition of God. The equivalent value of the child and the lamb, suggests a divine connection and comparison between the human being and the Divine, and the higher consciousness and lower unconsciousness. Remember that psychology as it is understood in the twentieth century did not exist in Blake’s era. This concept of dual consciousnesses may have surprised Blake’s readership. The fact that he emphasizes this idea with the second of the two lines can only serve to tell the reader that there has been no mistake in interpreting the connection. Both human child and animal child have an equal relationship to the Divine in both name and quality.
The repetition here serves to complete this concept with a blessing. The narrator’s revelation is now fully revealed. He blesses the lamb, himself, and the Christ with enthusiasm.
Jennifer Smith and Elizabeth Thomason, Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 12, William Blake, Published by Gale Group, 2001.