The poem "The Lily" by William Blake must be one of the shortest of his Songs of Innocence and of Experience collection, only four lines long:

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

Clearly there must be some hidden meaning behind this. Blake's poems tend to have a lot of religious themes, either overt or in subtext, and it's quite implausible for one of the Songs of Experience to be just a description of nature. Also, I can't really see anything "experience"-related in the surface meaning. Most of the Songs of Experience have something dark or threatening about them, but this seems very benign. Understanding the subtext would probably help me to understand its placement in this collection.

Why is it significant that the Lily has no sharp or threatening parts? What do the Rose, the sheep, and the Lily symbolise? (Is it significant that the sheep is not described as a lamb, which is a recurring motif in Blake's poetry?)

I've got good answers to questions like this here before. Hoping to get lucky again.

  • 2
    Oh, that's experience and not innocence? Yeah, that's certainly quite suspicious. Mar 13 '18 at 1:11
  • Why is the sheep not a lamb? Because lambs don't have horns. (I know that this is only a surface reason and doesn't get at the deeper meaning of the poem, but lambs are innocent and sheep with horns less so.)
    – Peter Shor
    Feb 22 '19 at 22:13
  • Some lambs are born with horns, e.g. ram lambs of the Hebridean breed.
    – ruffle
    Nov 14 '19 at 18:12

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