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Poem Searches For Meaning In Life, Death


Today's winning poem considers the dichotomy of innocence and experience. "Little Lamb" is, on the surface, about a lamb abandoned by its mother because she can't nurse more than two.

The innocence of the doomed lamb is juxtaposed with the experience of the mother who chooses to devote her energy to the stronger siblings who are more likely to survive.

"Little Lamb" is one of six entries selected by our poetry contest judge, Susan Porterfield, a published poet and Rockford University professor. She says "Little Lamb" borrows a line from William Blake's poem, "The Lamb," published in his 1789 book Songs of Innocence:

“Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?”

Blake wrote this, and a companion book called Songs of Experience, to give equal weight to these qualities, believing both were important. "When the writer here intersperses quotations from Blake's poem," says Porterfield, "we are reminded of Blake's sense of the interconnectedness of good and evil, of innocence and experience."

"Little Lamb" was written by Connie Seraphine of Sycamore. In it, the young protagonist is confronted with the question of how a newborn lamb could be abandoned by its mother. "This question becomes especially pertinent here because of the use of Blake," Porterfield says, noting the 18th Century writer chose the symbol of a lamb because it symbolizes Jesus Christ.

"Why did Jesus, the innocent lamb, have to die on the cross? Well, for our sins," says Porterfield. "Innocence and experience -- these are hard lessons to learn."

Susan Porterfield introduces "Little Lamb."

Seraphine has experience caring for lambs. She and her husband own Heatherhope Farm, a 43-acre sheep farm and training ground for working border collies. Their website also describes the farm as a "place for ecumenical spiritual renewal."

“Little Lamb” “Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?” I am a child again, curious about how things happen and troubled by no clear answers. I look upon the pure white lamb, only three days old and failing, lying motionless while siblings nurse. Reaching into the pen, I wrap its feather weight body in a blue cotton towel and carry it away from mother who has already said good-by; not able to nurse this weak, third baby. “Little Lamb, who made thee… Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing, wooly, bright…” In the house now, on my lap all I hear are pitiful rhythmic cries. I stroke her wee wooly head and gently rub the tummy, full of milk from tube and bottle, hoping against the odds. “Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee… He is called by thy name, For he calls himself a Lamb…” So I call upon the Lamb to help this innocent one - and wait and rock and wait, kissing her limp, curly head. A final sigh as limbs give way, tears dropping one by one. The Lamb of all creation hears and enfolds her into His bosom. “Little Lamb, God bless thee! Little Lamb, God bless thee!”

Connie Seraphine reads "Little Lamb."

We'll reveal our final winner tomorrow during Weekend Edition Saturday. Listen at 7:35 a.m. Then come back here for an author reading and more information. We welcome your comments about all our featured poems below.

Good morning, Early Riser! Since 1997 I've been waking WNIJ listeners with the latest news, weather, and program information with the goal of seamlessly weaving this content into NPR's Morning Edition.
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