Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Clod or A Pebble?

William Blake composed "The Clod and The Pebble," as part of his Songs of Experience. Blake, an admirer of both Dante and Milton, was incredibly well-versed in scripture and seemingly used the poem to describe two types of love:

Love seeketh not Itself to please
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.

So sang a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattles 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 Heavens despite.

Simply, selfless and selfish love are contrasted in Blake's poem. However, they are not as distinct as one might imagine. A "clod" is not merely a mass of earth; it also is a synonym for an oaf or a dolt, both of which have negative connotations. Blake chooses to bestow selfless love upon the unexperienced, malleable mass, in keeping with the concept of "child-like faith." In contrast, it is the more defined pebble that is the voice of selfish love. The pebble itself is not unchangeable, it will slowly be reformed as it is continually worn down by the brook's water flowing over and around it. It like the clod can and will be reshaped, only more gradually. However, unlike the clod, this reshaping has seemingly only made it more selfish.

Is this indeed the reality of our brokenness? As we become more educated and lose our child-like naivety, is it inevitable that any love that we have becomes selfish? I don't think so. But I do think that Blake has an important point. The impact of life in this broken world is unavoidable; it is a reality that must be dealt with. There is cause for great grief and when actually confronted by it, like the pebble is engulfed by the brook, a bleak hardening results. However, there is also cause for great hope and, even, "child-like faith." Due to the activity of grace through Jesus Christ, we, as Christians, are called to do much more than grieve; we are called to hope and therefore, to truly love. To remain in hardened bleakness is to discount the activity of grace; however, to ignore such bleakness is to deny the need for Christ's return. Redemption is coming in the midst of the submersion.

So, a clod or a pebble? As I examine myself and my own ability to love, I find it impossible to draw such a clear distinction between the two, despite the obvious differences iterated by Blake. Since moving to Roanoke Rapids, I have been confronted by a community with more cause for grief than I have ever experienced. The brokenness of this town and community is obvious in painful and disheartening ways, both in my job and in Will's. It is in fact the New South that I wrote about in my thesis and that frustrated Flannery O'Connor immensely. I find myself often overwhelmingly frustrated and saddened by the lack of education, lack of ambition, lack of authenticity, lack of faith. Yes, it is the "Bible Belt," but Christianity is a culture here, and rarely a religion.

Perhaps with this admittedly grim perspective, you could argue that I have become a pebble, but again, I don't think so. While, admittedly, I often struggle to do so, I am in fact hopeful and I do (attempt to) love. The manner in which this community is broken may be more obvious to me here, but I believe this is a lifelong struggle, not relegated to life in Eastern North Carolina. Is this not the condition of the Christian? Struggling to balance the unavoidable grief the fallen world provokes and the great hope and love we are given through the grace of Christ?

And so, this is how I begin and what I imagine much of this blog will deal with: an attempt to grapple with the reality of brokenness and the truth of grace, and a search for a right balance between grief and hope. I suppose, somewhere between a clod and a pebble.

1 comment:

  1. love the poem. thoughtful analysis. love you!