The Lamb and Walden

God, dominion, nature and their roles in an established hierarchy were common themes in many writings that American and English authors have shared for centuries. Unifying these themes are the Judaeo-Chrisitian religions that form the base for this hierarchy to be presented. In this essay, Henry Thoreau’s “Walden” as well as William Blake’s “The Lamb” will be cross examined to show that man is a part of this hierarchy by design and god exists at all parts of this hierarchy. The innate need to form a dominion over the another thing in the hierarchy establishes a circular chain of command in which one can’t say what the top of the hierarchy is, below God. This hierarchy includes animals, men, women, nature, God, Jesus and much more, but for the sake of discussion here it will be limited to these.

Blake’s poem, “The Lamb”, viewed with the accompanying artwork is a piece of art designed to reflect a spiritual hierarchy among god, man, nature and animals. Depicted in the art is a farmer and a flock of sheep, he’s seen feeding a lamb by hand. There is a tree whose branches appear to have been trimmed unnaturally level as to indicate a place for the pastured herd to exist in. To their is right a barn which was likely built from the cleared trees from the land. Bordering the painting is the vine that interconnects and travels through much of Blake’s works. It conveys the interconnectedness of nature and by extension establishes this common theme in his works.

The art portrayed lies on paper sharing a story written in English words, indicating some sort of duality. This counterbalances the poem in the same way the farmer feeds the sheep. In providing both, Blake is doing the feeding by making the art “digestible” by a reader through incorporating the suggestive words to accompany the art. In this way Blake equates the reader to an animal, who he is feeding and has come to his pasture through interest in the written word and he is the Shepard.

Blake depicts a farm, farmer, barn, tree, plot of occupied and cleared land, a lamb, that which it is fed with by hand with and a flock of sheep. The presence of the lamb represents its role in domestication by the farmer, in order for it to become a sheep as part of the herd. The cleared field with overhanging tree has carved a space in nature for man to control his flock of sheep depicts control over the land as well as animals in this established hierarchy.

With the trees no longer present in the cleared plot, a barn now stands to protect and cover the sheep. This shows that man’s domestication through cultivation of nature by rearranging and processing it in such a way provided and sustained many lambs into a herd of sheep. This forms a hierarchy where nature and animals are tended by humans, who in turn displace nature it to allow space for animals. Blake goes on to say that, “we are called by his name”, and in doing so he makes the statement that dominion through faith in God (The Lamb) reflects Christian morals inherent to the belief system. Because God (as man, Jesus, as animal, lamb, etc…) exists at all tiers of the hierarchy, one can see God everywhere. The implication here is that God is the force through which we are also interconnected in the same way the vine is observed surrounding the poem (as it trails off the same page it seemingly entered from).

This contrasts Thoreau’s descriptions of simple sights in nature that described the human-like social interactions he observed while living at his home in the woods. In “Walden”, he opens with asking why is it that these species are the ones we have. Reflecting for a moment on Blake’s work, these animals one person would see in the forest would differ quite a bit from the other in the pasture. For the farmer, a species would exist because he feeds them. For Thoreau it would be something in nature (seen, or unseen) that would likely have come about in a very different manner. Some of the species we have are there because of the doing of man, who carved them a place in nature and cultivated them there. Thoreau is saying that nature also takes part in this process, more so than as resources for man to use to provide for herd animals.

Thoreau writes, “the woodcock led her brood”. This observation is different from the one discussed in “The Lamb”. The poem implies that the person depicted, who is assumed to be the farmer, is also the one whom leads the herd. One story indicates that animals cultivate animals in the woods, the other story indicates that when not in the woods it’s the people that raise animals. The contrast here is that mankind is assuming a place that nature also took, by displacing it. The social interactions of the animals with each other decrease and are progressively replaced with the human for their social interactions as they live their lives.

This interaction was further contrasted when Thoreau continued in saying that “the mother would then in turn circle the human in defense of her flock,” as if to indicate there is some natural predisposition to exhibit the behavior. These behaviors are minimized in the herd, the animal having known the human for their whole lives, and left without a mother for their tending to (as Thoreau also wrote of his chickens). As the tree was cut to make space for the herd in the poem, the naturally arising (growing) behaviors of animals are also tended to by the presence of mankind. The role of a mother is changed or minimized when faced with living as a herd, which appears to be lead by a masculine type in Blake’s picture (such as a Father would). This sets a general expectation of men and women in the authors individual societies. This tone is that while an individual or small group of youths may be raised by a mother, it’s the role of a Father to Shepard a herd. This is a very Christian viewpoint often repeated in much of Judaeo-Christian literature.

Blake’s poem relates to Thoreau’s “Walden”, because both authors convey a theme for giving human characteristics to animals in their presented work. The authors indicate that God acts through the animals by implying their domestication, or are otherwise cultivated as one tends to a plant. Thoreau describes “these [animals] as [living] secret but free”, and reflects often of them not having seen man. Thoreau then goes on to relate the various social interactions he sees in the animals to human-like encounters, so that a reader might relate to the animals. This technique is shared by both authors.

In some moments, Thoreau describes the animals as exhibiting traits more effectively than humans. He comments that he’d witnessed humans fighting more resolutely than he’d observed in human conflicts. In depicting these characteristics, Thoreau showed God at work by exemplifying the interconnectedness between humans and animals acting otherwise independently in nature despite the actions being relatively similar. In the story, animals are often observed as dominating or cultivating each other. This was seen when he wrote about the black and red ants fighting, and the mother bird and the young birds.

In conclusion, both of these authors present work that reflects their religion. They convey that God is interconnected in all levels of a hierarchy that includes everything that was stated to have been created by God. These levels of hierarchy tend to displace each other for different reasons. In Blake’s poem, nature has been displaced to empower the tending of animals. In Thoreau’s story, he indicates that the social interactions that are naturally occurring tend to be displaced to empower the tending of animals. In doing so, these authors also liken themselves to the situation by implying that their writing is nurturing in the same way a farmer would tend their sheep. Blake does this by having a poem accompany his artwork. Thoreau implies that nature is also tasked with this cultivation of both man and animal, by his writing making the lives of forest animals so relatable. There are many other implications, comparisons and contrasts that can be made between these two works but there is only so much that can be covered in a short essay.

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