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The Little Boy Lost by William Blake: Analysis & Overview

The Little Boy Lost by William Blake: Analysis & Overview
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Davis

Richard teaches college writing and has a master's degree in creative writing.

Let's take a close look at William Blake's 'The Little Boy Lost,' which is only eight lines long, but explores a vast network of connections between the 'two contrary states' of innocence and experience.

Context: Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Before we jump into analyzing 'The Little Boy Lost,' let's familiarize ourselves with the poem's context (what exists 'around' the poem). The poem 'The Little Boy Lost' first appeared in William Blake's Songs of Innocence, which was published in 1789. Five years later in 1794, Blake published Songs of Experience. After both collections were published, they were combined into one large collection called Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.

That title is certainly a mouthful, but it gives us an important hint on how to approach the poems in this body of work. Obviously, Blake has positioned innocence and experience as opposites, but the fact that the collections have been combined means that we must consider how these two contrary states relate to one another. Therefore, in reading 'The Little Boy Lost,' we must take both perspectives into account.

Analyzing 'The Little Boy Lost'

As is often the case with Blake's work, 'The Little Boy Lost' is deceptively simple. Also, we're going to look at the poem as it was first printed, so you may be surprised by the lack of conventional punctuation. Here is the full text of the poem, which is only eight lines long:

'The Little Boy Lost'

Father, father, where are you going
O do not walk so fast.
Speak father, speak to your little boy
Or else I shall be lost,

The night was dark no father was there
The child was wet with dew.
The mire was deep, & the child did weep
And away the vapour flew.

Wait a second. Let's assess the situation in this poem. A child is left behind by his father. The child, cold and wet, weeps alone in the mud. What's so 'innocent' about that? If anything, this poem seems like it would be more at home in the darker, grittier Songs of Experience than in Songs of Innocence. Still, Blake intentionally placed this poem in Songs of Innocence, so we can assume he did this for a reason.

So, let's take a second look, this time focusing on the tone (or attitude) the poem uses. The first stanza is spoken by the lost little boy himself, and we immediately pick up on his distress. The first line, 'Father, father where are you going,' doesn't exactly indicate that things are going well. Because the speaker is entirely dependent upon his father for help, it can be said that he is too 'innocent' to figure out the situation for himself. The father's innocence, however, is questionable, since we can't tell whether he's left his child behind on purpose or by accident.

The tone of the second stanza, on the other hand, is much more detached than that of the first. In fact, the boy is no longer the speaker by this point. The poem 'zooms out,' showing us the situation from a different angle. We learn that night has fallen, and there's no father around to hear the boy's plea for help. Too young and inexperienced to save himself, the boy has no choice but to cry, the 'vapour' of his tears floating away with the dew that covers his body. In this way, the poem shows us a situation where an innocent is unable to overcome the darkness of a more 'experienced' world.

Companion Poems to 'The Little Boy Lost'

Fortunately, the little boy's story doesn't end there. There is also a poem titled 'The Little Boy Found' in Songs of Innocence. Because it responds to another poem ('The Little Boy Lost'), this poem is known as a companion poem. Here is the full text of 'The Little Boy Found,' which is also a mere eight lines long:

'The Little Boy Found'

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