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The Little Black Boy by William Blake: Summary & Poem Analysis

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  • 0:00 About William Blake
  • 0:59 'The Little Black Boy'
  • 3:57 Analysis of the Poem
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Herrin

Michelle has taught high school and college English and has master's degrees in eduation and liberal studies.

In this lesson, we'll learn about English poet William Blake and his famous poem, 'The Little Black Boy.' We'll analyze the poem's meaning and historical significance.

About William Blake

English poet and painter William Blake was born on November 28, 1757. Blake was active during the Romantic Age of the arts, which focused on intense emotions and nature, and was a reaction to the increasing use of technology and machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Blake wrote and painted about many social issues, including criticism of the Church of England. He also wrote about the abolition of slavery, which is the focus of 'The Little Black Boy.'

'The Little Black Boy' was published in one of Blake's most famous poetical works, a collection of illustrated poems called Songs of Innocence and Experience. One half of the collection, the Songs of Innocence, are poems about childhood and purity. The second half, the Songs of Experience, are poems that focus on adulthood and its corruption, oppression and violence.

'The Little Black Boy'

'The Little Black Boy' is from Songs of Innocence and was published in 1789. At this time in England, slavery was still legal and would not be abolished until 1834. Let's look at the text of the poem and summarize it:

'My mother bore me in the Southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child:
But I am black as if bereav'd of light.'

In this stanza, Blake is introducing the little black boy who was born in Africa ('the Southern wild'). He brings up the colors of white, which is often associated with 'good' things like angels, and black, which is often associated with 'bad' things like darkness ('bereav'd of light').

'My mother taught me underneath a tree
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say.'

Here, Blake shows the boy sitting with his mother, who begins to tell him about how the world works.

'Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away.
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.'

In this stanza, the mother explains that God lives in the sun and how the sun gives life to the world.

'And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.'

In this stanza, God's love is compared to the rays of the sun as a metaphor. A metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things (God's love and the sun here). She says that black people are so loved that their faces are 'sun-burnt.'

'For when our souls have learn'd the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.'

Here, she explains that black people will be called by God to sit with him.

'Thus did my mother say and kissed me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:'

Here, the little black boy says he explains these things to English boys. He says that someday they'll both be free of their clouds and be together in heaven.

'I'll shade him from the heat till he can bear,
To lean in joy upon our father's knee.
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me.'

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