‘The Little Boy Lost’ appeared in William Blake’s 1789 volume Songs of Innocence, where it’s followed by ‘The Little Boy Found’, its companion-poem. Before we proceed to some words of analysis, here’s a reminder of ‘The Little Boy Lost’, one of Blake’s most popular lyric poems.
The Little Boy Lost
Father! father! where are you going?
O do not walk so fast.
Speak, father, speak to your little boy,
Or else I shall be lost.
The night was dark, no father was there;
The child was wet with dew;
The mire was deep, & the child did weep,
And away the vapour flew.
In summary, ‘The Little Boy Lost’ is about a little boy who cannot keep up with his father, so he asks him to slow down. But the father does not reply, and indeed appears to be absent altogether, and the night is dark, so the little boy has no chance of finding his father again. The poem ends with the little boy weeping that he is lost.
‘The Little Boy Lost’ is therefore fairly straightforward, and its meaning doubtless presents few problems. But what of deeper analysis of its symbolism and significance? We could do worse than focus on the imagery used in that second stanza, especially the way the disappearance of the father into the darkness is accompanied by the ‘vapour’ flying away; the relationship between parent and child, a recurring theme in Blake’s poetry, is here figured as gossamer-thin and light as air, and every bit as fragile and tenuous.
In ‘The Little Boy Found’, the little boy will begin lost but will be rescued by his father. But not his biological father.