A Little Boy Lost: by William Blake - Summary and Analysis

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A Little Boy Lost

‘‘Nought loves another as itself,
Nor venerates another so,
Nor is it possible to thought
A greater than itself to know.

‘‘And, father, how can I love you
Or any of my brothers more?
I love you like the little bird
That picks up crumbs around the door.’’

The Priest sat by and heard the child;
In trembling zeal he seized his hair,
He led him by his little coat,
And all admired the priestly care.

And standing on the altar high,
‘‘Lo, what a fiend is here! said he:
‘‘One who sets reason up for judge
Of our most holy mystery.’’

The weeping child could not be heard,
The weeping parents wept in vain:
They stripped him to his little shirt,
And bound him in an iron chain,

And burned him in a holy place
Where many had been burned before;
The weeping parents wept in vain.
Are such thing done on Albion’s shore?

Summary and Analysis


      In Songs of Innocence children were undisturbed by thought. The boy growing older, however, begins to question what he has hitherto accepted. The scene in this poem is a church where the boy is reciting his catechism. We cannot be sure if Blake supports the view of the child, but Blake is obviously against the priests that torment him. It is the boy's right as a human being to attempt to think for himself and nothing can justify the tyranny of the Church.

In 'A Little Boy Lost' the boy is put to a most foul sort of death for rationalising the 'holy Mystery'.
A Little Boy Lost


      "What is thy duty towards God?" "What is they duty towards thy Neighbour?" Such questions have the stock answers from a true Christian, "My duty towards God is to love Him with all my heart" and "My duty towards my neighbour is to love him as myself." But the boy of 'The Little Boy Lost' finds such answers nonsensical because, according to him, no one loves or venerates others as intensely and truly as he loves himself. It is not possible for man to know God who is too big for man's limited intellect to comprehend." So he asks how he can love either God or his brother more than himself. His simple creed is that he loves God like a bird loves its feeder. When the boy utters these words in the course of the service it falls on the ears of the priest who is sitting beside him. The priest loses his temper and, catching hold of the boys hair, he drags him to the altar. In the eyes of the congregation this act of the priest appears laudable. At the altar the priest calls the boy a fiend for rationalising and questioning the truth of the "holy Mystery." There is a commotion all over the prayer-hall and it overpowers the boy's feeble sounds of weeping. All the attempts of his parents to rescue him are lost in the noise. Members of the congregation strip him and bind him with an iron chain. Later they set the 'heretic' ablaze in a holy place where, before him, may had been burned. The poet strirs the conscience of the people by wondering at such malpractice being committed in England- a country that prides itself on its liberality.

The Sin of Questioning Dogma:

       Man can only think of God as being like something he knows - such as another man; thus he cannot know what God is really like. It is by no means a mistake of the boy if he thinks he cannot love God more than himself. It is the blind teaching of the religious institutions that forces him to think so. The boy when he is young is taught the biblical sentences and he memorises them almost as a parakeet does. So, at a later stage of his life his reason presses him to rethink what he has been taught to memories. He is taught that it is God who feeds him and so, quite naturally he compares himself with a little bird and assigns god as his feeder. For admitting his own whimsical instincts he is burnt. Blake brings out the cruelty and pathos of the story by stressing how small the child is (like a little bird) on whom the Church brings the full weight of its authority to crush, accusing him in hyperbolic terms (as a 'fiend') and then burning him. They burn him with wide approval and as a solemn duty just as the heretics had been burned many a time before:

"And burned him in a holy place

Where many had been burned before."

      The second line of the above two lines seems to imply that it is quite usual to burn children. This intensely ironic implication reminds us of Swift's seemingly serious suggestion to rear beggar children to serve as food in his Modest Proposal.

Significance of Albion:

      Albion seems to embody Blake's ideas on the present state of England. C.A. Tulk observes that Blake viewed it, not with the eyes of ordinary men, but contemplated it rather as a province of one great man in whom diseases and crimes are continuously engendered, and on this account he poured forth two poetical effusions somewhat in the style of Novalis, mourning over the crimes and errors of his dear country: and it is more extraordinary still that, like Novalis, he contemplated the natural world as the mere outbirth of thought, and lived and existed in that world for which we are created. Horried forms and vision pervade this Albion, for they were the only representatives, in his opinion, of the present state of mankind.

The Boy as a Heretic:

      In 'A Little Boy Lost' the boy is put to a most foul sort of death for rationalising the 'holy Mystery'. The priest who sits attentive beside the boy hears the unexpected words of the boy and judges him before the altar as a heretic. The only mistake the boy can be accused of having committed is that he sees things in a reasonable way. But, for the priest, it is a personal as well as religious affront. The rationalistic view-point of the boy is so unforgivable as to deserve a death by burning. In fact, the boy is not 'lost' in the strictest sense of the word. He merely fails to conform and cope up with the priests religious dogmas and injunctions. The priest is portrayed as a fanatic, out to burn a young innocent boy for having a different view.

The Priest and the Boy:

      Unlike the boy, the priest foolishly adheres to his own unanalysed point of view and divines it unpardonably sinful to thwart and question the essence of religious connotations. He drags the boy to the altar and there he calls the boy a 'fiend'. His hollowness and bitter temper make him utter the exaggerated impeachment on the boy. In the Bible the devil is pictured as a rebel against God and also as blaspheming Him. The priest attributes these vices to the boy exaggeratedly when he calls him a devil. The priest takes all the biblical references for granted. But the boy is true to his mind and so finds them unpalatable. The priest does not understand that clouds of reason 'doubt and dark disputes' have closed upon the growing boy and that he has to be provided with a spiritual sustenance to reinforce the right facts with well-weighed judgement. Instead the boy is accused of being a heretic and burnt.

The Imagery of Bird:

      The boy appears frank and unreserved in confessing that he loves God as a bird loves its feeder, This open confession involves an other implication that man is incapable of discerning the full grace of God and the object of his creation. Man's intuition and insight are pitifully limited in range. Neither the priest nor the boy (and man) can be excepted from this limitation. But the priest casts eyes of suspicion on the boy for his words. The imagery of the bird points out that man's conception of God or the universe is fallacious and imperfect. The bird does not know the 'motive' of the feeder and its natural mode of expressing thankfulness is to pick at the crumbs of food alertly and meekly. In the very manner of the bird, the boy too welcomes God's creation spontaneously and unquestioningly. The intellectual maturity of the boy may exert its influence upon the age-old beliefs and creeds which he is made to accept forcibly. The fact is that the Priest does not venture to analyse the religious doctrines intellectually and hence he is ignorant of the fundamental and concrete truth, upon which Christianity is built. Any deviation from the literal meaning of the aphorisms of Bible is intolerable to him. It is here that we sense the bitter irony behind the ideas conveyed in the poem.

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