The Poets

November 29, 2010

The Clod and the Pebble

The Clod and the Pebble

"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair."

So sung 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."

Of the Poem

We human beings appropriate into our behavior the views we take of things. It’s as simple as this: If we have a positive perspective, we usually behave positively; if a negative one, then negatively. The point is, we're governed by the principles we assume.

Of the things that we view, which are countless, there are a limited number that we contemplate that are actually cardinal concepts (e.g. God, Justice, Beauty, Afterlife, etc).

Love, and our idea of love, abides high among these cardinal concepts. In fact, I'd even venture to say that it's how we view 'love' that ultimately determines how we live our lives- all else is merely cursory.

Blake touches on this point in the poem above by contrasting two mutually exclusive perspectives on love.

The one perspective, represented by the Clot, assures us that love- true love- is selfless and always gives of itself (even to the point of self-sacrifice). The other, represented by the Pebble, contends that love is inherently hedonistic, that it seeks ‘only self to please’, and will draw on every means possible to achieve its own particular pleasures at the expense of others.

The contrast becomes exceedingly clear when you look at lines 1 and 9 side by side:

Love seeketh not itself to please / Love seeketh only self to please

The rest of the poem essentially elaborates on the behavioral aspects these contending views produce … here’s few examples from the poem:

Selfless love will selflessly sacrifice its own comforts in order that it might increase the comfort and ease of another- for another gives its ease (line 3).

Self-complacent love is the kind of love that wishes only to please itself; the kind of love that will sacrifice the ease of another in order to achieve its hedonistic inclinations- even to the point that it becomes joyful at another's loss of ease (line 11)!

Selfless love has a minimal amount of self-interest (nor for itself hath any care- line 2), and will endeavor, inasmuch as it is possible, to bestow heaven’s peace wherever it can- even in the dreaded heart of hell itself.

A vile love of self will almost always suppress others, binding others, as it were, to its own crude delights (line 10); and, because this love is almost always in a perpetual state of strife with others, there is war where there would otherwise be peace (or, what’s the same, a Hell in Heaven's despite- line 14).

Why a Clod of Clay and why a Pebble? - I’m afraid I’d need Blake right here to explain that to me. But I’ll say this, the Clod is said to have been trampled by cattle, implying to me that the life of altruistic love is inherently connected with suffering and sacrifice (we see this repeatedly made clear). Self-love, however, in its greed-ridden frenzy, and despite its perpetual state of strife and conflict, seems to abide careless there in that brook, warbling away its metre meet.

It almost reminds me of sacred verse:

Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?

Jeremiah 12:1

Poetic Parameters

Stanza: quatrain (3 total)
Meter: The poem seems to revolve loosely around a tetrameter.
Rhyme Scheme: Stanzas 1 and 3 individually correspond to an abab pattern and, aside from their second lines (‘care and ‘delight’), correspond quite nicely with each other. The middle or second stanza has an xaxa rhyme scheme (where ‘x’ represents unrhymed lines)..

Thank you for being here. Thank you for reading Blake ... thank you for reading poetry.


cheryl said...

The Pebble is also hard (hard-hearted). That's what I got out of it anyways :).

Anne said...

Lovely. Thank you. Anne

Obiterspeak said...

Why a Clod of Clay and why a Pebble?

The Clod of Clay is frail and susceptible to destruction or (as a discourse on Love) to deconstruction. The pebble less so and as discourse on Love it does not merely beg to disagree with the clod of clay but challenges the very idea of Love as entirely other centred. Indeed, even when a lover or Love seeks to please the beloved, It is in truth seeking to please itself. In this way, it seems that the will of the self and the other can be reconciled. In being reconciled they are bound and in being bound something is lost - a degree of freedom or solitude is sacrificed. To love is always self-serving (regardless the sacrifices made by the lover) because it amounts to finding delight in or exerting a certain kind of power over and imposing upon the ease of the other. I like this view of Love because it prevents me thinking of those i love as somehow in my debt for (only apparently) self-less acts made in the name of loving them.

susana siveau said...

Gracias John por acercarte, un cálido saludo desde el sur.

sireneatspoetry said...

Lovely explication, John.

Obiterspeak: You kick a**, as well.


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting poem. Blake was a Romantic, and his love of nature is quite evident. I enjoy the irony of his work in what seem like contradictions. But this idea of love being both good and bad can be seen in nature if one cares to observe.

The spiritual layer is also interesting. Heaven is in the first stanza, earth in the middle stanza and hell in the last stanza. I think earth is put in the middle because it is the most influenced by both heaven and hell.

All the moral dilemmas of the world packed into a powerful poem.Beautiful.

As of April 9th, 2010