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Friday 25 January 2013

William Blake: The Lamb

File:Resting Lamb and Head of a Lamb, by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg

Study of Resting Lamb and Head of Lamb: Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1523, brush over preliminary drawing in black crayon, with watercolour and some white heightening, 20.6 × 24.6 cm (Kunstmuseum, Basel)

Facsimile page of Wlliam Blake's The Lamb

The Lamb: William Blake, engraving from Songs of Innocence, 1789

.......Little Lamb who made thee 
.......Dost thou know who made thee 
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice! 
.......Little Lamb who made thee 
.......Dost thou know who made thee 

.......Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
.......Little Lamb I'll tell thee!
He is callèd by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb
He is meek & he is mild, 
He became a little child: 
I a child & thou a lamb
We are callèd by his name.
.......Little Lamb God bless thee. 
.......Little Lamb God bless thee.

William Blake: The Lamb, from
Songs of Innocence, 1789

Sheep and Lamb: Jaccopo Bassano, c. 1560, oil on canvas, 77 x 109 cm (Galleria Borghese, Rome)

The Virgin and Child with St Anne (detail): Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1510, oil on wood (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Study of St Anne. Mary, the Christ Child and the young St John (detail): Leonardo da Vinci, 1501-1506, lead pencil, pen and ink (Gallerie dell' Academie, Venice)

John the Baptist in the Wilderness: Geertgen tot Sint Jans, 1490-95, panel, 42 x 28 cm (Staatliche Museum, Berlin)


vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

The paintings wonderful company for Blake's "Lamb"--I keep our little five-month-old--going on six--granddaughter company with it and the rest of "Songs of Innocence"--who knows, she might end up reciting all of these wonderful poems by heart!

PS. I also speak to her exclusively in English so it won't be all Greek to her when she starts to understand speech; since everybody else around her bombards her with Greek, I thought I'd give her a headstart towards being bilingual--not baaaaaaaad, eh?

TC said...


Baa probably means baa to a Greek lamb as well as any other. That's a universal onomatopoetic language which even a second-time-round child (speaking for himself, here) could understand.

We've been reading the lovely book on life and all things living in rural North Yorkshire by James Herriot (Alf Wight), who knew a bit about lambs and lambing.

Twenty centuries' worth of Christian connotation notwithstanding, the lambs on Alf's Yorkshire Moors are anything but symbolic, much less sacrificial.

"Lambing time is the most hectic period of the vets' and farmers' year... the toughest part of my working year, but at the same time the most rewarding. Delivering these uniquely appealing little creatures is an unfailing joy, and the charm of seeing them struggling to their feet while the mother 'talks' to them has never grown dim for me.

"The lambing season has another delightful significance. It means that the long, harsh Yorkshire winter is almost at an end. The noises that come from the lambing pens and sheep folds are remarkably varied. The low-pitched chuckle of the ewe as she licks her new offspring, the angry, possessive baa-ing when they feel there is a threat to their families, and the shrill bawling of the lambs themselves... 'The sound of sheep, the sound of spring'."

-- from James Herriot's Yorkshire, 1979

One has to feel, for that matter, that Leonardo, good vegetarian that he was, drew his lambs "from life", but never stooped to eating mutton.

"Et in Arcadia...": greens only.

TC said...

And Willy, for his part, seemed to know a thing or two about the benign influence of starlight in pastures:

The fleeces of our flocks are cover'd with
Thy sacred dew...

Blake: To the Evening Star

TC said...

Though then again urban realism reminds that (a) John the Baptist probably had itchy toes out there in the wilderness, and (b) where there are little lambs there are often big bad wolves lurking about somewhere at the margins of the pasture...

Nora said...

When we were little, my mother used to tell my sister and I about the pharaoh Psammeticus II, who, wishing to find the original language, sent two children away to be raised by shepherds. The shepherds were instructed never to speak in the children's presence, so that whatever words they spoke to each other would not be influenced by any one culture.

The children, when they spoke, said 'baa,' leading the pharaoh to conclude that the fundamental human language must be Phrygian, and the children were saying bekos, the Phrygian word for bread. My mom used to say it was just as likely they were asking for Bac~Os to put on their salads (though really, wouldn't children raised by lambs take their salads without adornment?).

When I grew up and went to college, I read the same story in Herodotus, but he left out the bit about Bac~Os. Which just goes to show what a distinguished storyteller my mother is.

Mose23 said...

The sing song beauty of this always moves me. When set against the fiercer music of the Experience Songs it shines harder and shows up as loss.

It was made to be sung.

TC said...

Had Psammeticus II sent those two children to Boston, upon saying that word they might have been directed either to the nearest drinking establishment or (perish the thought) straight to reform school.

(Are there those any more?)

The Arvo part is sublimity itself. It makes January seem the purest month. We needed that.

And talking of the innocent sing song beauty of the thing: our correspondent J Tranter from Down Under, where January is somewhat less austere, sends this along for our amusement and edification:

William Blake

... He kissed the child & by the hand led
And to his mother brought,
Who in sorrow pale, thro' the lonely dale,
Her little boy weeping sought.
— William Blake, from 'The Little Boy Found'

William, William, talent
Burning bright,
His verses do this reader
Much delight.

Struggling with a rhyme
Throughout the night
Poems in tortured syntax
He would write.

Grammar bent, obedient
To his passion;
Backward-facing sentences
He'd fashion.

A smile of satisfaction
On his face,
Verbs at the ends of sentences
He'd place.

William, William, rhyming
All his days,
His verses do this reader
Much amaze.

In the immortal words of Randy Newman's Mr Sheep: "I feel like going...baaa!"

Nora said...

Tom, I am downright embarrassed that I grew up in a suburb of Boston with that story a regular feature in my mother's repetoire, and never once thought of that possibility. I probably even read Herodotus in a bar at some point in my mis-spent youth. Oh, the shame of it.