‘The Little Boy Lost‘ by William Blake was first published in 1789 in Blake’s famous poetic volume, Songs of Innocence. This poem, at only eight lines, gives an in-depth look at a terrifying situation through which a child is struggling. The poem is close to having the structured pattern of ABCB, DEFE but there are a couple of half or slant rhymes, such as that at the ends of lines two and four. Additionally, Blake makes use of similar end sounds in lines one and three.
In this piece the “father” of the boy is getting farther and farther away from him, the child cannot hear or see him. He is without guidance in the dark but after a time of suffering the “vapours” fly away and he is, presumably, able to find his way back.
Just as one might for a time lose their faith in God, feel lost in the woods in the search to return to him, and then finally be able to see clearly, so too does the boy overcome his situation.
Analysis of 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,
This short poem is divided between two different speakers, a young boy who is making an impassioned plea to his father, and a narrator who briefly describes the actions and condition of the child in the second stanza.
The first stanza begins with the child speaker, the young boy mentioned in the title. Although Blake does not provide much description of the setting, the reader can presume that this child is outdoors, traveling a road alone. Up ahead of him is his father, after whom he is following. The father seems to be walking too quickly, getting too far up the road out of the boy’s line of sight. This frightens him as it is a dark night and he cannot see.
The boy calls out to his father, “Father, father…” and asks him where he is going. The reader may now assume that the child is not supposed to be perusing the father. They are not traveling together but separately with the boy trailing after his parent. The father is going to an unnamed, unknown, destination, but it is clear that he does not want his son there, or does not care enough to stop and comfort him.
The father is walking quickly, much faster than the child can keep up with. The boy begs his father, “O do not walk so fast.”
He continues on, imploring his father to call out to him, to “speak to your little boy.” He is seeking some form of comfort from his father, but receives nothing. He is unable to see his father and needs to use his voice to locate him. The boy is afraid that out in the dark he is going to get lost and tells his father as much. The father, if he is even there, does not call out or turn back.
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.
The second stanza continues the story of the young boy but now it is told from the perspective of a narrator unaffected by the scene unfolding around him.
The narrator begins by describing the night as being “dark.” The boy most likely does not know where he is or how to get home. There is no safe place in this poem. The narrator reveals that there was in fact, “no father…there.” Whether or not the father was there at one point it is not made clear, but there is no hope in sight for the child who is now completely alone, and possibly abandoned, in the dark.
The speaker now takes some time to describe the state of the child, hoping to evoke feelings of pity from the reader. The child is traveling alone at night and is “wet with dew.” This change of scene from night to a reference to “dew” could mean that the child has been out all night and as morning is dawning, he has been covered with “dew” from the surrounding trees.
The final two lines of the poem bring to mind a possible deeper meaning to this narrative. The child is in a difficult situation, Blake uses the word “mire” to express the hardship the child is facing. Additionally, this word could refer to the physical surroundings of the child. Traditionally “mire” has been used to refer to a swampy, wet area of land. The child is weeping in this landscape, completely forlorn and lost.
The final line of the poem stands out from the rest as it seems to take the reader out of the narrative. As the child wept, “Away the vapor flew.” This could reference the lifting of a cloud, mist, or obstruction that kept the child from seeing and being seen, it could also refer to something deeper.
This entire poem can be taken less literally, and more spiritual. This choice to weave a religious narrative within another storyline would not unusual for Blake who was known for his depictions of spirituality and mythology. If understood this way, the young boy becomes anyone lost in their life, searching for someone, a “Father,” God, or religion to guide them. The boy is desperate, pleading and praying for salvation. Only when the boy cries and accepts the predicament he is in, do the “vapours” fly away, freeing his mind and perhaps returning him to the knowledge and belief in God.
About William Blake
William Blake was born in London, England in November of 1757. Blake was raised in humble conditions and had a normal childhood except for the fact that he was consistently subjected to visions. When he called to have seen God’s head in a window sill at four years old and later the Prophet Ezekiel and a tree full of angels. From a young age, Blake was noted for his verse and drawing ability and when he was fourteen he began an apprenticeship to an engraver, the career through which he would eventually earn his living.
In 1782, Blake married Catherine Boucher who would become a valuable assistant and loving wife. In 1784, Blake set up his print shop and began to create his famous illuminated etchings. It was through the convergence of his two loves, poetry and art, that Blake published Songs of Innocence in 1789. This work was followed by Songs of Experience in 1794. These works are notable not only for their beautiful illustrations and verse, but for the combination of the two. These pieces are generally considered to be Blake’s best poetry.
The next years of Blake’s life brought new troubles. He was accused of uttering seditious, or treasonous, sentiments against the king, but luckily, was found not guilty. This experience inspired Blake to write the epic poem, ‘Jerusalem‘.
By 1824 his health had taken a downward turn and he died in 1827, in the midst of creating an illustrated version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.