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Karthik Nathan 10/19/2011 ENGL 1102- Leland The Lamb criticism essay In Thomas McLaughlins Figurative Language, the

critic goes very in depth into the realm of figurative language as it has to do with the poem The Lamb, by William Blake. McLaughlin begins by talking about the simplicity of the poem: The poems speaker is a child speaking to a lamb, giving it a lesson in theology (McLaughlin 81). He goes on to explain that the simple language of the poem allows the simple mindset of the child to be highlighted and that the poem is both a celebration and critique of the clear, nave thinking of children, as the child and the lamb both are creations of Christ, who is the prime symbol of innocence (McLaughlin 81). Then McLaughlin gets into the real topic of his analysis, which is the figurative language in the poem, explaining that in between all of this simplicity is actually a whole array of figures of speech that bring up meanings that are suddenly not so simple. Before actually discussing these figures, the critic first defines figurative language as words that involve a contrast with the proper meaning of a word; its supposed rightful meaning, using an analogy with a football player on defense and a tiger (McLaughlin 81).. He explains that figures of speech twist the meaning of a word, but they are so common that the process of interpreting them occurs almost unconsciously (McLaughlin 81). The first figure of speech interpreted by McLaughlin is the lambs clothing. Clothing is figurative language for the wool of the lamb, according to McLaughlin, as it keeps him warm; it gives him beauty (McLaughlin 82). But what it really does is to personify the lamb, as the child does not see himself and the lamb as different, but rather the same, as gods creatures (McLaughlin 82). The critic goes on to explain that another piece of figurative language from the first stanza comes from the fact that god gives the lamb life and bids the lamb to eat. The significance of this is that the speaker uses these figures to

construct an image of god which fits the poems benign natural world (McLaughlin 82). The next point made by McLaughlin is these figures reveal a much more complicated and sophisticated theology at work than the speaker has in mind (McLaughlin 82). He explains that the child thinks that his god is completely innocent, but that cannot be the case if that god is so powerful and complex. He affirms: The speakers own language seems to undo him, to suggest an image of god more complicated than the innocent child can grasp (McLaughlin 82). McLaughlin then goes on to name more figures of speech - metaphor, personification, and apostrophe - and relates them back to the poem. For a metaphor, he names clothing of delight, saying that clothing is to humans as wool is to lambs and for personification, cites the poems description of the echo as the valleys rejoicing as an obvious example (McLaughlin 83). The personification is especially noteworthy to McLaughlin, as it produces for [the child] a harmonious and peaceful natural worldso that his innocence will be maintained (McLaughlin 83). The critic also labels the poem as being written on one large figure of speech, an apostrophe, saying that when the child speaks to the lamb, he implies that the lamb can understand him (McLaughlin 83). The essay proceeds to say that the second stanza seems starkly literal all the words are used in their proper sense (McLaughlin 84). McLaughlin claims that this is because the second stanza was written to represent the truth in the name of god, answering all of the questions that were proposed in the more figurative first stanza. However, he goes on to show that what seems like a relatively straightforward stanza is actually not so simple. The critic names a few words (tell, call, become, bless, lamb, and child) as words that have deeper meanings. The most remarkable of these, according to McLaughlin, is bless, which actually apparently means to cleanse by a ritual sprinkling of blood (McLaughlin 84). This is incredibly suitable to this poem, he says, in that one of the chief links between the lamb and Christ is that

both are victims of blood sacrifice (McLaughlin 84). McLaughlin also finds the fact that the words meek and mild were used in conjunction with the idea of Christ very interesting, asking the question: Is Christ the maker of the figure or is he the meek and mild material that gets shaped? (McLaughlin 84). McLaughlin concludes his analysis by speaking of the meaning of figurative language in everyday life, explaining that meaning is up for grabs and the world can be shaped in an endless variety of forms (McLaughlin 90). To him, two of the great benefits of poetry are the pleasure of meditating on these challenging, rich figures and the insight that they provide into the power of language itself (McLaughlin 90). McLaughlins commentary was by far the most useful and interesting source out of the three sources. The depth with which he attacked this poem was astounding and unmatched in all of the criticisms that were read. The reason that this essay was so useful is that analyzing figurative language is definitely the most effective way to analyze any poem by William Blake, especially this one. The most useful section in this commentary was the portion that astutely discussed the fact that the nave speakers language ironically was the most complicated part of the poem. No other source made such a deep connection and this type of analysis fills the entire commentary. This source would be incredibly useful when writing an essay about The Lamb. The second source is by an online critic known as Megan. She begins by calling forward Blakes religious views and immediately classifying The Lamb as another one of Blakes poems that relate around his Christian views (Megan). The critic then analyzes the repetition of the lines Little Lamb who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee, claiming that this repetition really implies the innocent curiosity of the young narrator (Megan). Megan also notes that each time the word lamb is written, it is capitalized, symbolizing God, as God is always capitalized (Megan). She proceeds to interpret the first stanza, stating that the Lamb is

being asked about its origins and the answer comes in line 4 (By the stream and oer the mead;). The phrase mead, according to Megan, refers to meadows, suggesting Gods kindness in his creations which echoes a similar description in a story in the Old Testament, Genesis (Megan).. She continues, claiming that this is significant because, like this poem, Genesis is all about creation (Megan). The interpretation of the second stanza by Megan is very similar to one by McLaughlin; both critics agree that this stanza clarifies all of the questions posed in the first stanza. Megan makes comparisons between the Lamb and the creator, and then finally gives the conclusion: If it isnt clear by now, the creator is the Lamb of God, Jesus (Megan). She finishes by passing off the rest of the poem as self-explanatory and clear-cut: We are all called by his name; we are all called by God because we are all his children. He created all of us (Megan). She then comments on Blakes position in all of this by saying Blake positions himself somewhere outside the perspectives of innocence and experience in this poem (Megan). Megans commentary was an interesting follow-up to McLaughlins lengthy and relatively dry commentary. The repetition idea was a fair point and the mead to meadows connections was very well thought out, specifically because of the references to extratextual information such as Genesis. Megan did an excellent job of not only using background information about Blake and Christianity, but also of making solid connections between the information and the poem (i.e. Genesis, lamb/God). Some of her statements seemed obvious and boring, but that is most probably because they were read after McLaughlins lengthy essay, after which it is difficult to discover new ideas. The language of this commentary was actually very informal, which at times was distracting to someone adapted to reading very formal and proper

analyses. The only wrong aspect about this commentary is that it definitely could have been longer and more in-depth, but it did well for its length The third source is from the SparkNotes page about The Lamb. The commentary starts off right away by contrasting the first and second stanzas, similar to the other two criticisms: The first stanza is rural and descriptive, while the second focuses on abstract spiritual matters and contains explanation and analogy (SparkNotes). The analysis also calls out the apparent simplicity of the poem, but then goes on to suggest that there is much more than meets the eye: The question is a simple one, yet the child is also tapping into the deep and timeless questions that all human beings have, about their own origins and the nature of creation (SparkNotes). It proceeds to discuss the answer given to the questions posed in the first stanza, citing again the simplicity of the language, but also that this simplicity contributes to an underlying sense of ironic knowingness or artifice in the poem (SparkNotes). SparkNotes also makes the easy connection that the lamb symbolizes Jesus and that this image underscores the Christian values of gentleness, meekness, and peace (SparkNotes). A short correlation between Jesus and children is made through the Gospel and some extratextual information is brought in through a reference to the rest of the Songs of Innocence, saying that this poem, like many of the Songs of Innocence, accepts what Blake saw as the more positive aspects of conventional Christian belief (SparkNotes). The commentary also mentions the complementary Blake poem The Tyger, asserting that taken together, the two poems give a perspective on religion that includes the good and clear as well as the terrible and inscrutable (SparkNotes). As a concluding statement, this analysis makes a strikingly similar statement to one that Megan (in the previous source) made, which is that Blake himself stands somewhere outside the perspectives of innocence and experience he projects (SparkNotes).

This source was relatively useful, especially because it referred to the Bible and Christian philosophy, as well as extratextual information through other similar William Blake poems. This criticism again repeats many of the ideas stated in the previous sources (simple becoming complicated, naivety, etc). There was honestly nothing spectacular about this source though, as it did not go as in depth as McLaughlin and also failed to analyze or even mention the grammar, form, or any other such literary elements that are essential in analyzing poetry. This might be a little harsh, considering the relative length of McLaughlins commentary, and most (if not all) of the ideas in this poem had already been thoroughly analyzed and discussed.

WORKS CITED McLaughlin, Thomas. "Figurative Language." Critical Terms for Literary Study. Eds. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1995. "Poetry Analysis." Megan's blog. N.p., 2010. Web. 20 Oct 2011. <>. "Songs of Innocence." SparkNotes. SparkNotes, 2009. Web. 20 Oct 2011. <>.