When Blake published Songs of Innocence and of Experience in 1794, he subtitled the book, “Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.” The qualities displayed by the child speaker in “The Lamb” are an example of what Blake meant by the state of innocence, which may be found in children but is not confined to them. Perception in the state of innocence is always spontaneous; it does not get bogged down in painful memories of the past or in useless speculation or doubt. It shows an unclouded awareness of the divine spirit that flows through all things.
The speaker of the poem represents this innocent mode of being. He expresses no interest in the difficult, nightmarish, or problematic aspects of life. He only asks questions (“Little Lamb, who made thee?”) to which he knows the answer (“Little Lamb I’ll tell thee”) and he asks only for the joy of explaining what he knows in the simplest of terms.
Because the childlike mind is uncluttered with the mental baggage that adults tend to accumulate in the state of Experience, the child in “The Lamb” is free to experience joy through his senses. He has not learned how to distort his experience into anything less. He enjoys the bleat of the lamb and assumes as a matter of course that everything else in nature (“all the vales”) rejoices in it too. He declares the lamb’s wool to be “clothing of delight,” which can refer either to the delight the child feels when he touches it or the delight he assumes the lamb has in possessing it. It does not take much imagination to suppose that in addition to the child’s sense of touch and hearing, his other senses are also finely attuned to the bliss and delight that shape his perception of the world.
The Unity of Creation
The child has an innocent knowledge and perception of the unity between the different levels of creation. The human and animal worlds are linked to each other by their common source in the divine. The child explains this by referring to the image of the lamb, frequently used in the New Testament to symbolize Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe to be the only son of God. In the Gospel of John, for example, Jesus is referred to as “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” The child uses this “meek” and “mild” aspect of Christ to explain the unity between Christ and his creation. This is apparent in the three lines,
He became a little child:
I a child and thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
In other words, the universe, at least the way the child experiences it, is a seamless web, and the glue that holds it together is the divine figure of Christ. Because Christ took human form and so “became a little child,” the child feels his own connection to the savior. In the child’s mind, the Lamb of God is the divine, life-giving power since he created the lamb and defined its nature. The lamb instinctively knows, guided by the creator, where to find food and drink. There is nothing to darken or disturb this harmonious picture of the tender stream of blessings that the Lamb pours down on his creation, represented by lamb and child. Of course for the child, the joy he feels and the sense that he is under divine protection are not religious concepts but simply his experience. No doubt he has received Christian teachings by schoolmaster or parents, but he shows no desire to probe more deeply into the subject. He is happy with what he knows, and in this sense he is complete. He needs nothing more than what he already possesses, quite unlike the speaker in the companion poem, “The Tyger” in Songs of Innocence and of Experience. In that poem, the speaker seeks an answer to the question of who made the fierce tiger: “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” For the child speaker in “The Lamb,” safe in the state of innocence, such questions cannot arise.
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.