The Little Girl Lost - Imagery, symbolism and themes
Imagery and symbolism
There is a dreamlike or fairy tale atmosphere to this poem. Critics have suggested that Blake is making use here of folk-tales about lost children who are found and reared by animals.
Folk-tales and the related form of the Romances often use images of caves and caverns inhabited by wild beasts. They evoke ideas of depth and hiddenness appropriate to the notion of the hidden, inner recesses of the mind.
Christian and biblical imagery
Blake was concerned to express what he believed was his true understanding of Christianity. He was writing for a public that, for the most part, were Christians and shared Blake's familiarity with the Bible. He both used – and questioned - Christian images that he knew his readers would recognise.
Grave the sentence – The picture is of earth serving a term of punishment, serious and long-lasting because of the magnitude of the ‘crime'. This alludes to the biblical narrative of the fall of humankind, when Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation rather than obeying God. See Big ideas from the Bible > Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Second Adam. The term ‘grave' is associated with death and could also refer to the verb ‘engrave'.
Desart wild … garden mild – Blake evokes Old Testament images of the Israelites wandering in the desert (after their escape from captivity in Egypt) before reaching the Promised Land. It also hints at the image of Adam and Eve wandering after being expelled from Eden (Genesis 3:23). This suggestion is made clearer by the reference to the ‘garden mild'. This evokes the Garden of Eden, the harmonious paradise in which the first humans lived before falling into self-consciousness and sexual shame.
It suggests, that in Lyca's story, we will be reading about a return to inner harmony, a recovery of what was lost in the Fall. This, too, is a biblical theme (Isaiah 35:1-2). In this way, Lyca herself becomes a symbol of this restoration. These references build on the natural associations of deserts and gardens and the contrast between them.
This tree - Biblical images in the prologue are then picked up in the poem itself in the reference to Lyca sleeping beneath a tree. Usually in Blake, the tree suggests the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Paradise, the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were told by God not to eat its fruit. Tempted by the devil in the shape of a serpent, Eve eats some and gives it to Adam. As a result, they fall from innocence, become aware of their sexuality and develop shame about it. They are cast out of Eden. Blake locates this tree in the human mind in his Songs of Experience. (See The Human Abstract)
Wild animals - The imagery of leopards, tigers and lions is used not only because these are fierce animals but also because in the prophetic books of the Old Testament they represent dangerous and predatory forces. Blake himself sees these as symbols of the ferocious power and energy within creation, as necessary to it as the gentleness of the lamb. In the Bible, Jesus is pictured both as a lion and as a lamb, combining these contraries.
Sexuality – Lyca's maiden / virgin state is emphasised. Having her bosom and neck licked, being undressed, then ‘convey'd / To caves' by animals are events with sexual overtones. The lion's ‘eyes of flame' can be interpreted as lust whilst the ‘Ruby tears' might symbolise the blood shed as virginity is taken.
Investigating imagery and symbolism
- Would the poem be as effective if you only took desert and garden as natural symbols of barrenness, fertility and growth?
- What do you think Blake is conveying through the sexual / animal imagery?
The effects of ‘fallenness' on repression of sexuality and other emotions
Blake believed that human inhibitions lie primarily within the mind, and were a consequence of the Fall. Working from this distorted perspective, people make their fears, guilt and shame into rules and laws, then enshrine them in social institutions such as the authority of parents, the Church and the State. Here, Lyca is hindered by her perceptions of her mother's fears and anticipated prohibitions.
Parental care and authority
In Blake's work, parents are often perceived as inhibiting and repressing their children. Their own fears and shame are communicated to the next generation through the parental desire to ‘protect' children from their desires and their sexuality. According to Blake, parents misuse ‘care' to repress children and bind them to themselves, rather than setting the children free by rejoicing in, and safeguarding, their capacity for play and imagination.
- Compare the image of the parents here with that of the nurse in The Nurse's Song (I).
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? 2And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said, You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. 4But the serpent said to the woman, You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, Where are you? 10And he said, I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. 11He said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? 12The man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this that you have done? The woman said, The serpent deceived me, and I ate. 14The Lord God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. 16To the woman he said, I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. 17And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 20The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. 22Then the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever - 23therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
1Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. 8And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. 9And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? 10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. 11And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? 12And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. 13And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. 14And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. 16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. 17And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. 20And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 21Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. 22And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; 2it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who have an anxious heart, Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
1The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. 2It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God. 3Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. 4Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. 7And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. 8And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. 9No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: 10And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
1. A traditional genre or mode which includes fantasy writing 2. A love story. 3. A Romance language is one that is derived from Latin.
The beliefs, doctrines and practices of Christians.
Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.
Adam and Eve's act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden described in the Old Testament Book of Genesis which led to estrangement from God for them and their descendants.
According to Genesis (the first book of the Old Testament), Adam is the first human being, made in the image / likeness of God, placed in the Garden of Eden and given dominion over the earth.
According to the book of Genesis in the Bible the first woman, said to have been created by God out of Adam's rib, to be his companion.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
A 'testament' is a covenant or binding agreement and is a term used in the Bible of God's relationship with his people). The sacred writings of Judaism (the Hebrew Bible). These also form the first part of the Christian Bible.
Descendants of Israel (Jacob) and occupants of Israel.
In the Old Testament the land where Joseph and Jacob found sustenance in times of famine, though later Israelites were held captive and made to work as slaves for the Pharaoh.
The land said to be promised by God to Abraham and his descendants in the Old Testament.
The place described in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, in which God placed his first human creatures, Adam and Eve. It is depicted as a beautiful garden, often also called Paradise.
The place described in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, in which God placed his first human creatures, Adam and Eve.
According to the Book of Genesis, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil grew in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat its fruit by God. When they disobeyed, they lost their innocence and close relationship with God.
Also known as Satan or Lucifer, the Bible depicts him as the chief of the fallen angels and demons, the arch enemy of God who mounts a significant, but ultimately futile, challenge to God's authority.
Related to prophecy, that is the communication of the plans or message of God through a human messenger.
The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.