A Cradle Song

The poem A Cradle Song by William Blake is about a mother’s unconditional love as well as fear for her baby child. The poem is a kind of lullaby which is sung by parents for lulling a baby to sleep. It shows mother’s concern over child’s journey from innocence to experience.

The mother is singing sweetly in order to help her child sleep well and have good dreams. There is a juxtaposition of reality and divinity, joy and sorrow, innocence and experience and the child is the central point of this juxtaposition.

The poem begins with a simple lullaby but soon, the theme of religion, guilt, God and Jesus Christ appears. In the end, the mother describes how Jesus Christ wept for humanity and their sins (which she fears her child will also commit after growing up from innocence to experience.

The poem has been divided into 8 stanzas having 4 lines eachna and the rhyme scheme is AABB.

A Cradle Song Analysis

Stanza 1

In the first stanza, the mother has her child either in the cradle whom she is trying to lull into sleep by singing a lullaby. She desires that sweet dreams form a shade over the head of her young child i.e. he may go to sound sleep and have sweet dreams.

She wishes that he may have sweet dreams of streams that flow pleasantly in the night while the rays of the moon fall on them (a very pleasant scene indeed!). The poet, here, is creating a pastoral environment which is free from the materialistic world and hence soothing and sorrow-free.

Stanza 2

The mother prays for the child and sings so that he may have a sweet sleep with soft down weave thy brows an infant crown. ‘Down‘ means soft and fluffy feathers which grow on the newly born bird. Here the eyebrows of the child are symbolised as down.

The mother is thus singing that her child may have sweet sleep while his eyebrows which are as soft as down (as like the newly born bird, he is too an infant) are making a kind of crown – the mother is thus imagining as a prince.

The phrase sweet sleep is again repeated in the 3rd line. The mother expresses her joy as a gentle angel is hovering over her happy child i.e. the child is being guarded not only by her but by God as well. Hence he (child) seems to be happy while sleeping.

Stanza 3

The third stanza expresses a mother’s joy who is watching her child sleeping well. According to her the sweet smiles of her child in the night, become the source of her own joy (mother’s joy). The child’s smiling face makes the mother get attracted towards him and hence she smiles throughout the night.

Stanza 4

The fourth stanza is quite significant in the poem. In this stanza, we encounter for the first time, the sexual activity which is linked to the experience. The child is now having sweet moans and dovelike sighs that trouble his mother a little bit as she fears that these might not be the signs of awakening.

Note the use of dovelike. A dove also has soft feathers which have been described in stanza 1 (down). Hence again, the mother is talking about the innocence of the child.

In the third line, the mother says that sweet moans and even sweeter smiles and all the dovelike moans attract her towards him.

Though we find the innocence in this stanza, but there is also a contrary element here. The phrases moans and sighs depict pleasure which adult can have while having sex. In this context, the mother probably fears that her child may not wake up i.e. become mature because she has heard his moans and sighs which symbolise adultness.

Thus here we don’t have only the fear of simply waking up but also of growing into an adult for the mother is something not good.

Stanza 5

In the fifth stanza, the mother sings that he may keep sleeping because his joy and peace echoes in the whole creation of God. In the third line again she repeats the phrase sleep sleep which is a happy sleep. while his mother (i.e. she herself) is weeping.

Here we find the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow – the child is in peace and happiness while his mother is weeping and sorrowful. The reason is that he is innocent while his mother is experienced, he has not seen the harsh reality and sins of the world while his mother did.

This stanza can also be considered as a reference to the previous one. The mother, in the previous stanza seems to be worried because of moans and sighs which are the signs of growing up and committing sins (sex is sin without marriage). Hence here she is weeping because she fears that her child will commit sins after growing up.

Stanza 6

Having talked about the sins of humans, the poet now brings Jesus and the idea of guilt into the poem. The mother says to the sleeping child that in his face, she sees Jesus – i.e.he is as innocent as Jesus or in other words, he is as pious as Jesus.

Next she says that when Jesus was born and was as young as her own child, he wept for her i.e. he wept before God for the sins which she has committed. The sentence to the next stanza.

Stanza 7

Jesus wept for her (the mother in the poem), for her child and for the whole of humanity when he was young. The mother again says that she sees in him (her child) the incarnation of Jesus and that Jesus is smiling on him.

It must be noted that Blake has often considered children to be closer to God (as he says in Holy Thursday).

Stanza 8

Like the previous stanza, this stanza also continues from the previous one. The mother says that Jesus smiles not only on him (child) but on her as well as on the whole of humanity. Now Jesus seems to have entered her baby (infant small). And the child’s smiles are now the smiles of Jesus which have spread peace across the earth as well as heaven.

Check out Cradle Song by Sarojini Naidu.