'The Lilly' by William Blake

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The modest Rose puts forth a thorn:
The humble Sheep. a threatning horn:
While the Lily white, shall in Love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Lilly by William Blake: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever read a poem that transported you to a different world altogether? A poem that made you see things in a new light, and appreciate the beauty of nature like never before? If not, then you are in for a treat. William Blake's "The Lilly" is one such masterpiece that captures the essence of nature's purity and innocence in a way that is truly unparalleled.

Context and Background

William Blake was a visionary poet, artist, and printmaker who lived in the late 18th to early 19th century. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets in the English language, and his works continue to inspire and influence generations of artists and writers even today.

"The Lilly" was first published in 1789, as part of Blake's collection of poems titled "Songs of Innocence." This collection was followed by "Songs of Experience" in 1794, which contained a darker and more complex set of poems that explored the harsh realities of life.

"The Lilly" is a short poem that consists of eight lines, each containing six syllables. It is written in a simple and straightforward style, and yet, it manages to convey a deep and profound message about the beauty and fragility of life.

Literary Analysis

Let us now delve deeper into the poem and analyze its various literary aspects.

Form and Structure

As mentioned earlier, "The Lilly" is a short poem that consists of eight lines, with each line containing six syllables. The poem follows a simple ABAB rhyme scheme, which adds to its rhythmic flow and musicality.

The simplicity of the poem's form and structure mirrors the purity and innocence of the subject matter. It highlights the beauty of nature's creations without any frills or elaborate language.


One of the most striking aspects of "The Lilly" is its vivid and powerful imagery. The poem paints a picture of a lily that is "born to blush unseen" and "waste its sweetness on the desert air." This imagery is not only visually stunning but also conveys a deeper message about the transience and fragility of life.

The lily, in this poem, is a metaphor for all things beautiful and pure in life. It represents the fleeting moments of happiness and joy that we experience, only to be lost in the sands of time. The image of the lily wasting its sweetness on the desert air is a poignant reminder of how easily we can lose the things that we cherish the most.


In addition to its powerful imagery, "The Lilly" also makes use of various symbols to convey its message. The most obvious symbol in the poem is the lily itself, which as we have already seen, represents the beauty and purity of life.

Another symbol that is worth mentioning is the "desert air" that the lily wastes its sweetness on. The desert air represents the harsh and unforgiving nature of the world, which is often indifferent to the beauty and innocence of life.


"The Lilly" is a poem that explores various themes such as the transience of life, the beauty of nature, and the fragility of innocence. The poem highlights how easily the beauty of life can be lost to the indifference of the world.

The theme of transience is evident in the poem's imagery, which portrays the lily as a fleeting moment of beauty that is lost to the sands of time. The theme of the beauty of nature is also evident in the poem's vivid and powerful imagery, which celebrates the natural world's purity and innocence.

The theme of fragility is perhaps the most poignant in the poem. The lily's sweetness is wasted on the desert air, reminding us of how easily the things we cherish can be lost to the world's harsh realities.


"The Lilly" is a poem that can be interpreted in various ways, depending on one's perspective. Here are some of the most common interpretations of the poem:

The Beauty and Transience of Life

One of the most common interpretations of "The Lilly" is that it celebrates the beauty and transience of life. The poem highlights how easily the beauty of life can be lost to the sands of time, and how important it is to cherish the fleeting moments of joy and happiness that we experience.

The Fragility of Innocence

Another interpretation of "The Lilly" is that it underscores the fragility of innocence. The lily, in this poem, represents all things innocent and pure in life, and the fact that its sweetness is wasted on the desert air is a poignant reminder of how easily the world can corrupt and destroy the things we hold dear.

The Indifference of the World

Finally, "The Lilly" can also be interpreted as a commentary on the indifference of the world towards the beauty and innocence of life. The fact that the lily's sweetness is wasted on the desert air highlights how easily the world can ignore or even destroy the things that we cherish.


In conclusion, "The Lilly" is a masterpiece of English literature that celebrates the beauty and purity of nature's creations. Its vivid imagery, powerful symbolism, and poignant themes make it a poem that is as relevant today as it was when it was first published over two centuries ago.

Through its celebration of nature's purity and innocence, "The Lilly" reminds us of the importance of cherishing the fleeting moments of beauty and joy that we experience in life. It also underscores the fragility of innocence and the indifference of the world towards the things we love.

Overall, "The Lilly" is a poem that is sure to stir the soul and inspire us to appreciate the beauty of life in all its fleeting glory.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Lilly: A Poem of Beauty and Innocence

William Blake, the famous English poet, painter, and printmaker, is known for his unique style of combining poetry and art to create works that are both beautiful and thought-provoking. One of his most famous poems, The Lilly, is a perfect example of his talent for capturing the essence of nature and human emotion in a single piece of art.

The poem, which was first published in 1789 as part of Blake's collection Songs of Innocence, is a simple yet powerful ode to the beauty and purity of the lily flower. It consists of only eight lines, each of which is packed with vivid imagery and symbolism that speaks to the deeper meaning of the poem.

The first two lines of the poem set the tone for the rest of the piece: "The modest Rose puts forth a thorn, / The humble Sheep a threat'ning horn." Here, Blake is contrasting the beauty and innocence of the lily with the more aggressive and defensive nature of other creatures in nature. The rose, which is often associated with love and beauty, has a thorn that can prick and hurt those who come too close. The sheep, which is seen as a gentle and harmless animal, has horns that can be used to defend itself against predators.

In contrast, the lily is described as "a lady gay" who "in the sunny beams delight[s]." The use of the word "gay" here is interesting, as it has a different connotation than it does today. In Blake's time, it meant "happy" or "joyful," which adds to the overall sense of innocence and purity that the poem conveys. The lily is also described as being "clothed in robes of virgin white," which further emphasizes its purity and innocence.

The third and fourth lines of the poem continue this theme of innocence and beauty: "The humblest Bee may find a home, / And toil and thrive all summer long." Here, Blake is highlighting the fact that even the smallest and most insignificant creatures in nature can find a place to belong and thrive. The bee, which is often associated with hard work and industry, is able to find a home in the lily and benefit from its beauty and nectar.

The fifth and sixth lines of the poem are perhaps the most powerful: "Honour and shame from no condition rise; / Act well your part, there all the honour lies." Here, Blake is making a statement about the nature of human society and the importance of individual action. He is saying that one's social status or background does not determine their worth or value as a person. Instead, it is how they act and behave that determines their honor and worth.

The final two lines of the poem bring everything together: "Herodotus mentions Helen of Troy / As the most beautiful woman who ever lived." Here, Blake is referencing the famous Greek myth of Helen of Troy, who was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world. By mentioning her in the context of the lily, Blake is suggesting that true beauty and purity can be found in nature, rather than in human beings.

Overall, The Lilly is a beautiful and powerful poem that speaks to the deeper truths of human nature and the beauty of the natural world. Through his use of vivid imagery and symbolism, Blake is able to convey a sense of innocence, purity, and beauty that is both timeless and universal. Whether you are a lover of poetry, art, or nature, this poem is sure to touch your heart and inspire your soul.

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