The Little Black Boy: by William Blake - Summary and Analysis

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The Little Black Boy

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but oh my soul is white!
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereaved of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And, pointed to the east, began to say:

‘‘Look on the rising sun: there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives His heat away,
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

‘‘And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

‘‘For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear His voice,
Saying, ’Come out from the grove, my love and care
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice’,’’
Thus did my mother say, and kissed me;
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy

I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our Father’s knee;
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.

Summary and Analysis


      Blake is one of the few writers like Charles Dickens who wrote and stood up against the society's malevolence towards children. In his days he was sensitive about the so called colour discrimination practised by the Englishmen. The English people employed the Negro boys as servants in their houses, and there remained a sturdy barrier against the intermingling of English boys and the sunburnt Negro boys. As it is apparent in the poem, the spokesman is a Negro boy. Under the aegis of Methodist society there was a movement to propagate the Christian gospel among the black races. Blake wrote this poem by the time the Methodist Missions were established for the purpose.

Blake depicting this pathetic note has attained his heights of poetic and imaginative splendour in his poem 'The Little Black Boy' The poet has proved ingenious in putting the real philosophy (or prophecy?) in the mouth of a neglected woman, mother to the black boy.
The Little Black Boy


      The little black boy is well aware of his drawbacks and infirmities. He is black and sunburnt, while the English boys are angelic in their fair skin. The Negro boy is exposed to the scorching heat of the sun and patiently suffers everything.

      Although well convinced of his sunburned dark colour the black boy is thankful to God. He is never guided by the false standards of unjust human perception which, as is made explicit, depends upon the colour of the skin. Instead he is guided by his mother's advice and explanation of the valueless worldly life. She tells him that much of the ephemeral body is dust. She emphasises the life in the other world of God where humanity. kindness and charity matter more than the pigment of skin or hair. She tells him:

"And these black bodies and this sunburned face

Is but a cloud. and like a shady grove."

      One has to feel God's beam of love. This enriches him and enables him to stand the mightier effulgence of God's grace in heaven. The warmth felt in heaven and earth are the same and those who are accustomed to it on earth, will not find it difficult to withstand it in heaven. The warmth obviously is the warmth of love. The black boy follows the advice of his mother and shows a good deal of perseverance.

      Quite unlike the Negro boy the little English boy is always at the losing end. The white boy, being untrained to face the heat, will probably find it perturbing to stand the mighty effulgence radiating from God's brilliance. And so he is per-force driven to the shelter of the black boy. The Negro boy welcomes the white one, because 'to serve' is his prophesied motto. The black boy more fortunate than the white in having a lot to suffer on earth because it tempers his mind and body, and never betrays him at any point.

Points of Comparison :

      We can never be sure of the fact that the black boy is self-complacent in his present circumstances in this world or in heaven. He is simply regarded as one who is blessed enough to surpass the tense and trying situations. These situations are there for him to display his love and re-emerge superior and master of adverse circumstances also. The less trained white boy will have to suffer much in the other world though in this world he enjoys superiority over the black one. In heaven it is the turn of the black boy to help him and make him feel the true affection he has not enjoyed. The earthly barriers of colour melt in the world of God and hence both of them come out alike and are measured on the same scale ot divine love of God.

The Black Boy's Superiority :

      The anticipated benediction and advantage of the black boy over the white in heaven is by no means a palliative to the black boy living on the earth. Nor is it because of his entry into heaven that he suffers all the atrocities and inhuman onslaughts of the white. Both the white and black naturally enter heaven and the black is instantaneously proved to be master of the situation. Then what if the white exercises superiority over him? He is always in the mercy of God as he is exposed to the sun of Nature and to the light of God. 

Poetic Pathos and Philosophy :

      Blake depicting this pathetic note has attained his heights of poetic and imaginative splendour in his poem 'The Little Black Boy' The poet has proved ingenious in putting the real philosophy (or prophecy?) in the mouth of a neglected woman, mother to the black boy. It is not an advice solely meant for her boy but to all those who suffer. She effectively and rather surprisingly disproves the colour-factor as the criterion of superiority. In rustic terms and not in high-sounding philosophical jargon, she ascertains the triviality of the body. She brings about, in a quite convincing way, the idea that body is a membrane to absorb. His beam of love and after a while it sheds away leaving our soul alone. The little black boy keeps this idea in his mind and never laments his deformity. He knows that his body is better adapted and habitually insulated to the intense light of God's love.

      The first stanza of the poem asserts and highlights the white's superiority over the black but later at the end of the poem the black boy emerges as greater than the other because:

"I,ll shade him from the heat, till he can bear

.........     .........    .........

And then I'll stand and stroke his hair

And be ike him and he will then love me."

      The note of pathos is struck in the black boys words. The 'black' and the 'white' are of homogeneous heritage since both descend from the same family, family of God. But yet the black is segregated from the white. He has to 'wait' until he reaches heaven for the merging of white and black. Even in heaven he feels interiority. See the paradox that in heaven the black waits for his transformation into white and not the white's into black. "For nobler depth of religious beauty with accordant grandeur of sentiment and language. I know no parallel nor hint elsewhere of such a poem as, The Little Black Boy," says Alexander Gilchrist.

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