By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘The Little Boy Found’ appeared in William Blake’s 1789 volume Songs of Experience, where it follows the companion-poem ‘The Little Boy Lost’. Before we proceed to some words of analysis, here’s a reminder of ‘The Little Boy Found’, one of Blake’s most popular lyric poems.
The Little Boy Found
The little boy lost in the lonely fen,
Led by the wand’ring light,
Began to cry, but God ever nigh,
Appeared like his father in white.
He kissed the child and by the hand led
And to his mother brought,
Who in sorrow pale, thro’ the lonely dale
Her little weeping boy sought.
In summary, the little boy gets lost, led astray by some will-o’-the-wisp, a ‘wand’ring light’; realising he is lost, he starts to cry. But God appears to him, dressed in white like the boy’s father. God kisses the child and returns him to his mother, who has been distraught, searching for her lost little boy.
In ‘The Little Boy Lost’, the companion-piece to ‘The Little Boy Found’, the little boy had lost his father in the darkness and was left alone, ominously, in the ‘mire’.
A key theme in Blake’s work is the relationship between parent and child, and if the father failed to look after his little boy in the earlier poem, in ‘The Little Boy Found’ the boy’s biological father is absent altogether, with God the Father standing in as the male parent, watching over the little boy (‘God ever nigh’) and resembling his father in appearance (‘Appeared like his father in white’).
In other words, placing one’s trust in God, and believing in him as the benevolent ‘father’ of everyone who will watch over us and look after us, seems to be what Blake is encouraging readers to do.
Those without a father – and given the proximity of ‘The Little Boy Lost’ to ‘The Little Boy Found’, the boy’s father goes from negligent to entirely absent, as many children’s biological fathers have been down the ages – should rest assured that their spiritual Father, God, will watch over them.
But they should believe in him first: then, if they are led astray by temptation (that ‘wand’ring light’ the little boy gets distracted by?), they do not need to fear.