The Clod and the Pebble
William Blake’s famous poem ‘The Clod and the Pebble’ is a philosophical piece. It contains two contrary statements- of ‘Clod’ and ‘Pebble’. Clod contends that real love is unselfish, yearning to sacrifice oneself for the pleasure of others and thus to replace the hellish despair with heaven. But the sponsor of this outlook is crumbled into pieces under the heavy feet of cattle. The ‘Pebble’ lying immersed in the water of a rivulet holds another view. According to it, love is to please oneself, to make others sacrifice themselves for our pleasure, and to keep them uneasy at our disposal and in this way to build a hell instead of heaven.
The ‘Clod’ stands in favour of selfless love, the love that leads the lover to abnegate his own personal and private and, in a sense, selfish appeasements. This very point of view is negated when the fragile clod is crushed under the feet of cattle. The clod of clay invariably pertains to the state of Innocence according to which love is self-sacrificing. But this kind of love crumbles to pieces under the heavy feet of Experience. On the contrary, the pebble’s viewpoint is more plausible. The pebble is cold and solid and it finds love tormenting, overpowering and tyrannical, and selfishly possessive.
The theory of love promulgated by the Clod is of a submissive tenor propagating self-abnegation and self-renunciation. It accentuates the spiritual aspect of love and attributes divinity and heavenliness to love. But in the world of experience love is of the sort exemplified by Tereus who raped Philomela. It is, as a matter of fact, selfish and even sadistic. It is in the choice of speakers that we wonder at the poet’s ingenuity. In the world of experience, a view originating from an experienced brain is more plausible and that is the aptness of the poet’s selection of a pebble (harder stuff, inelastic and stable) to speak of selfish love; whereas the fragile clod itself indicates the short duration of the love-based upon its theory. It is crushed under the mighty hooves of the cattle.
From yet another angle, the poem has a different bearing. The clod which is smooth, submissive and pliant connotes the extreme of feminine nature. The pebble which has comparatively a solid, inflexible, massive structure hints at the extreme of masculine nature. These two natures are visibly apparent in any sexual relationship.
Neither complete submission nor selfish tyranny yields the much sought-after bliss of love because either extremes are futile and ineffective. Standing by the view of the ‘Clod’ we can see that its words are fallacious and erroneous. A selfless love may find it suitable to live in total subservience and resignedness and submit to the humiliation of tyranny but finally, it becomes disgusting and provokes contempt in the mate. The clod that assumes the mild nature is soon lost in the sand for it is crumbled to pieces by the active and alert legs of experience. The clod’s view, however, sounds impeccable when we see it in the light of human love or mercy or philanthropist. The other extreme view is held by the pebble. In the eyes of the pebble, love is ruthless and tyrannous. It has the tendency to overbear others and exploit them. One who is involved in such a love, the pebble contends, looks forward to enjoying the loved one’s loss of comfort. As a matter of fact, that sort of lover is replacing the heavenly and natural rapture with a host of hellish suffering.
Blake’s maxim that the human soul is made of contrary elements can be applied here also. Instinct and imagination or the beastly and divine nature of man are necessary for a fuller life of the soul and for its progress. It is a grievous mistake to sanctify the lamb and turn an eye of defiance towards the tiger. Blake opposes such a view and gives equal prominence to both sense and soul, the wild and meek aspects of human being.