The Little Boy Lost (I) - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

The poem revolves around the expectations aroused by the father – child relationship.

The child - All Blake's associations with the image of the child are in the background of the poem and affect our understanding of it. Here, the child is an image of innocence and dependence. In his image of the child, Blake was mindful of the young Jesus who was innocent and dependent on the care of Mary and Joseph. However, the Gospel accounts of Jesus' birth and childhood include experience of human violence and persecution, emphasising his vulnerability. The weeping of the child conveys his terror at abandonment.

Father - The term father would have more than associations with human generation and care. In Blake's Christian society, fatherhood was associated with God the Father, an all-pervasive, benevolent presence. The father-child relationship would, therefore, speak not just of a human reality but of a divine one, too.

Mire – the misty, treacherous bog (a staple of the horror genre) into which the child is sinking emphasises how easily the child becomes invisible to those who should care for him - both parent and wider society

vapour – Blake was referring to what is known as the ‘will-o'-the-wisp'. This is the phosphorescent light that appears to hover over marshy ground at night, probably the result of marsh gases combusting. When it disappears, the child is left totally ‘in the dark'.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • What are the connotations you would normally associate with fatherhood?
    • Do you recognise these in this poem?
      • What do they add to your appreciation of it?


Parental care and authority

The father in this poem betrays his son and fails to protect vulnerable innocence. One reading of the poem is that the father dies, abandoning his child to society's care (to become a charity child like those seen in Holy Thursday). This was a contemporary social issue.

The vulnerability of innocence

This is particularly so when innocence is ignorant of the ‘woe' in life and of the possibility of failure and betrayal.

Investigating themes

  • What new ideas have you gained here about Blake's attitude to authority figures and the role of parents?
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