A Little Girl Lost - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Lost – The poem's title can be understood in a number of ways:

  • The conventional idea that Ona has ‘lost' her way morally by engaging in sex outside of marriage (thereby ignoring the teaching of the Bible)
  • The girl has ‘lost' her virginity / innocence through sexual activity
  • Ona is only a ‘little girl' who likes to ‘play' and trustingly goes to her father. In confronting a knowing adult perspective and the consequences of her actions, implicit in the poem is the loss of her childhood
  • Ona is ‘lost' according to Blake's beliefs, if she succumbs to the fallen viewpoint of her father, which denies her full humanity

Age of Gold – This alludes to the myth of the Golden Age, a paradisal state in which there was harmony and innocence. This links with the ‘garden', evoking the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Love from the Song of Songs.

The garden of love – The dominant image evokes two gardens in the Old Testament. First it evokes the Garden of Eden before the Fall of humankind. When Adam and Eve were in the garden, they were able to love without shame and self-consciousness. It was a place, therefore, of innocent uninhibited sexual expression. This is the state of Ona at the beginning of the poem. The reference to the ‘youthful pair' evokes the image of Adam and Eve and reinforces the image of the Garden of Eden. See Big ideas from the Bible > Garden of Eden; Adam and Eve; Second Adam.

The second garden is found in the Old Testament poem, the Song of Songs (sometimes called The Song of Solomon.) This is an unashamedly erotic poem, where garden imagery is used as a metaphor for sexual enjoyment (Song of Songs 4:16, Song of Songs 5:1, Song of Songs 6:2). Here, it stresses the goodness and innocence of Ona's state at the beginning of the poem.

However, the contemporary Christian reading reinterpreted the original eroticism of the poem, to make it a symbol of a ‘purer' spiritual love, implicitly demoting the worth of sexual expression.

More on the Song of Songs: This poetic account of lovers was interpreted by the Church variously as an image of the spiritual relationship:

In medieval literature, the Song was used as an image for sexual encounter / sexual relationship. Chaucer uses it in a parodic form in his Merchant's Tale in The Canterbury Tales.

Since it thus became a poem interpreted in ways far removed from its original purpose, the Song also stresses Ona's fate in according to her father's fallen way of interpreting her burgeoning sexuality.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • What does knowledge about the biblical allusions add to your interpretation of the poem?


The nature of innocence

Innocence is presented here as freedom from constraint and self-consciousness. The couple are without self-awareness in their ‘play' and in their pleasure in their physicality. However, Ona's sudden terror and weakness demonstrates the fragility of this innocence in the face of woe, as does the image of the shaken ‘blossoms'.

Parental care and authority

In A Little Girl Lost, parents are perceived as inhibiting and repressing their children through love, rather than through deliberate cruelty. The father's own fear and shame are communicated to the next generation in the desire to ‘protect' children from their desires and their sexuality. It still results in binding their children to them and draining them of life. The father's reaction is notable for its self-centredness.

The effects of ‘fallenness' on repression of sexuality and other emotions

Blake believed that inhibitions lie primarily within the mind, rather than in external factors. Society makes its fears, guilt and shame into rules and laws which are then enshrined in social institutions such as the authority of parents, the Church and the State or Monarchy.

Investigating themes

  • What is your reaction to Blake's perspective on the response of Ona's father?
    • Compare this portrayal of parental responsibility with other parents depicted in the Songs
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