Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Summary and Analysis of "A Cradle Song"

Buy Study Guide

Summary

This lullaby is primarily a simple song of a mother taking pleasure in her baby’s restful expressions and sounds. She dwells upon her child’s “Sweet moans, sweeter smiles” and asks that an Angel watch over her baby’s dreams. The last three stanzas draw a parallel between the baby in her arms and the Babe that once lay in a manger, the incarnate Jesus Christ. She can trace the “Holy image” in her baby’s face and sees in her child’s cries the weeping of the Savior for all humanity. She ends by observing that, as the baby’s smiles beguile his mother, so the smiles of the infant Christ beguile “Heaven & Earth to peace.” It is through the process of incarnation that God restores a damaged, sinful world to a state of childlike innocence.

Analysis

This eight-stanza poem consists entirely of quatrains, with each quatrain in turn made up of two rhyming couplets. The word “sweet” is repeated at the beginning of five of the eight stanzas, signifying the mother's overwhelming sense of devotion and love for her new child. “Sleep,” too, is repeated frequently, both to give cadence to its companion word, “Sweet,” and to give the reader the sense that the mother is singing this song to her restless child in an attempt to lull him back to sleep.

The first five stanzas form a progression of wishes for the child. In the first stanza, the speaker asks for pleasant dreams for the baby as he sleeps. In the second stanza, the shift to sleep weaving "an infant crown" about the baby, while an "Angel mild" watches over, externalizes the source of the baby's peace to spiritual forces beyond the child's own thoughts. The third and fourth stanzas return to the baby himself, the third focusing on the baby's smiles, which "beguile" the mother and which shift the focus from pleasant blessings upon the baby to the blessings the baby gives to others. The fourth stanza turns to the baby's "Sweet moans" and sighs, which the speaker hopes are not be signs of the baby's awakening. Again, the baby's innocent sounds are said to "beguile" the speaker. The fifth stanza begins the transition from the mother-baby pair to the wider world. While the baby sleeps, "All creation slept and smil'd." The baby's own peace is echoed in the rest of the natural world. A shift in tone occurs as well, for here the baby sleeps a "happy sleep" while "o'er thee thy mother weep[s]."

The last three stanzas describe how the mother can see the "Holy image" of Christ in her baby's face. Jesus was a "Sweet babe once like thee" who in His turn wept for the mother. In fact, He "Wept for me for thee for all,/When he was an infant small." In the innocence of her baby, the mother can see the beauty and significance of the Incarnation.

The poem ends with a parallel between the baby in the mother's arms and the Child Christ. Whereas the baby's smiles beguile the world, the smiles of the baby Jesus "Heaven & earth to peace beguiles." The baby is a tiny representation of the cosmic significance of the Incarnate Christ.