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Author William Blake
Title The clod and the pebble
Year 1794

The year 1789 is engraved on the second plate of The book of Thel (discussed yesterday). This is the same year the Songs of innocence were published. The motto and the conclusion of The book of Thel seem to be from a later date. Apparently Blake changed the ending (and added a motto) while he was working on the Songs of experience (published in 1794).

The unselfish, self-sacrificing love of the clod of clay, who offers herself up to be “the food of worms“, is a key element of Thel. We find the same clod of clay, with the same unselfish love, in the Songs of experience. And, just as in Thel, the clod of clay does not have the last word:

William Blake - The clod and the pebble

William Blake – 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.

Many poems in the Songs of experience are a reply to or sequel of poems in the earlier Songs of innocence. The clod and the pebble contains both elements (innocence and experience) in one poem. Innocence is represented by the clod of clay, who describes unselfish, Christian love. The consequence of this noble love, however, is to be trodden by cattle’s feet.

The pebble’s love, on the other hand, is selfish and abusive. Yet the pebble, who represents experience, has the last word in this poem, and he is probably not trodden by anyone. Conclusion?

In Thel, we do learn that there is more to the clod’s world than meets the eye (and possibly Blake wrote the conclusion of Thel while working on The clod and the pebble). Her world is “a land of sorrows and of tears where never smile was seen“. To be trodden by cattle’s feet is the least of her miseries. And yet she nurses and nourishes the little worm, and tries to build “a Heaven in Hells despair“.