The modest Rose puts forth a thorn:
The humble Sheep, a threatening horn:
While the Lilly white, shall in Love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.
William Blake in his poem ‘The Lilly’ mainly depicts lily as a symbol of requiting love or mutual warmth of love. It is held in contrast with the rose which is beautiful, appealing and fragrant but thorny. The poet takes the thorns of the rose as a drawback, a symbol of resistance against the gentle emotion of love. Sheep are also humble but with their horns they defend themselves. But the lilly has no thorn nor is its heart so cold as to reject the warmth of love. Hence the lilly’s superiority and genuine unblemished nature. According to Blake, in love, there is danger and treachery where we least expect it, but genuine innocence and love are not completely lost, it still exists. ‘The Lilly’ brings out the attitude of the lilly flower which accepts the warmth of love open-heartedly. The poet goes on to hold that purity does not involve rejection or refusal of love but a ready welcome of it.
The poet’s intention in praising the lily’s acceptance of love is to show that love and such tender emotions are to be exchanged freely and frankly and this frank dealing makes a thing all the more beautiful. Then only the ‘thing of beauty’ becomes a joy forever.’ The lilly is a symbol of purity and its purity is further made prominent by its white colour. But for Blake, its purity originates from its capacity or readiness to accept love. This poem also shows that most innocent and beautiful things have one defect which mars their perfection, but the lilly has perfect beauty and meekness, and is, therefore, a perfect symbol of love.