A Little Girl Lost - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

Dual meanings

There is frequent repetition, with new meanings, of words such as ‘holy,' ‘care' and ‘love':

  • Holy' in stanza one refers to something natural, light. It recalls the biblical account of creation in which everything created is pronounced ‘good' or holy. (See Genesis 1:31). Its second use in ‘holy book' refers to something man-made (presumably the Bible). The first two ‘holy's are associated with light, the third with terror
  • In stanza two, the ‘care' of the lovers is considerate, it is ‘softest care' and is associated with light and brightness. However, the ‘care' found in the last verse is anxious, possessive, secretly destructive and manipulative. It is a source of misery and is used to control
  • The ‘love' to which the prologue refers is ‘sweet' like the kisses the lovers share in stanza four. It differs in nature and effect to the love involved in the ‘loving look' of Ona's father, which inspires terror and guilt

Bright white light

Blake makes more distinct differences between brightness and whiteness:

  • In the first stanza, the generalised innocent maiden is ‘bright'. The garden in which the lovers play is bright and, in the penultimate stanza, Ona is also ‘bright', even though she has engaged in sexual activity. It is as though all three are filled with the brightness, and warmth, of holy light and unsullied innocence
  • This is contrasted with the whiteness associated with Ona's father. He is her ‘father white' and his hair is ‘hoary' (i.e. white as with frost). He is associated with what is drained of colour and warmth. His whiteness is about the absence of life. Ona's fate is, therefore, implied in his first words to her ‘Ona! Pale and weak'. In response to his ‘loving look' she is no longer ‘bright', with all the vigour this implies, but ‘pale', drained of colour and life. Her brightness is being transformed into his whiteness.

Investigating language and tone

  • Do you think Ona goes to her father before or after the planned night-time meeting with her lover?
    • Depending on your answer, how does this affect your understanding of the description of her as a ‘maiden bright' in the penultimate stanza?
      • What might Blake be trying to convey by this description?

Structure and versification

The stanzas of rhymed couplets followed by rhymed triplets are all closed. There are three trochaic stresses per line until the last line of each stanza. This last line has five stresses and an additional four syllables. It creates a pause before the next stanza, emphasising each verse as a separate scene in the story.

Blake uses soft alliteration – F in stanza three, W in stanza four - which seems to ease the passage and reduce the threshold between innocence and sexual experience. This is contrasted by the harsh alliteration of ‘terror' / ‘tender' and the exclamations and commands of the latter part of the poem, when Ona's father regards the situation with a morally black and white perspective.

Investigating structure and versification

  • After the pause implied by the final line, how do you imagine the story might continue?
    • Echoing Blake's form, try and write another one or two stanzas for the poem.
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