The Little Girl Lost - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

The initial presentation of Lyca is as ‘lovely Lyca'. This is a term we would normally expect to be used of teenage girl or woman. When we are then told that she is seven years old it is rather a shock. Blake prepares us to see at least a burgeoning adult before introducing us to a child.

Initially, Blake creates fear and tension in the reader by introducing the animals as ‘beasts of prey', ‘coming from caverns deep' and watching the ‘virgin' while she is vulnerable in sleep. All our standard expectations are aroused. These are then contradicted by the unexpected description of the lion ‘gambolling', a term we would more associate with a lamb. This is further developed by describing the other animals as playing and the lion licking her neck.

Notice, however, the sensuality of the line ‘And her bosom lick' together with the idea of fire and passion associated with ‘his eyes of flame' from which ‘ruby tears came'. These build up to a renewal of tension over the fate of the child. Her vulnerability is suggested in ‘her slender dress', which seems more appropriate to the form beneath it, and is increased by her being carried ‘naked' to the caves.

Investigating language and tone

  • Note down your initial associations with these terms:
    • Beasts of prey; lion; leopard; tiger; lioness
  • Now note how Blake presents them
    • What do you think is the reason for the difference?
    • Is the word ‘hallow'd' significant?

Structure and versification

The rhymed couplets with their regular rhythm create a predictability and security which undercuts the anxiety felt by readers on behalf of the child. However, this highlights the reversal of expectations in the later stanzas: wild beasts do not disturb or threaten – nor does the rhythm and pattern of the verse. The predictability and frequent repletion of simple, monosyllabic words suits the fairy tale nature of the content.

Notice how the rhyming in stanzas five, six and seven underline the relationship between Lyca and her mother, as Lyca sees it:

  • Mother = weep, Lyca = does not sleep
  • Mother = sleep, Lyca = does not weep.

In Lyca's mind, there is an intimate relationship between her mother's emotions and her freedom of response.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Do you find the regularity of the verse is predictable and lulls you into not thinking about the content?
  • Or does it help you to appreciate the way in which the poem challenges expectations?
    • Try to give your reasons for your opinion.
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