The Little Boy Lost
William Blake

“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.

The Little Boy Found
William Blake

The little boy lost in the lonely fen,
Led by the wand’ring light,
Began to cry; but God, ever nigh,
Appear’d like his father in white.

He kissed the child & by the hand led
And to his mother brought,
Who in sorrow pale, thro’ the lonely dale,
Her little boy weeping sought.

Commentary:

The difference between “The Little Boy Lost” and “A Little Boy Lost” in the move from Innocence to Experience is important. The first little boy is probably singular, an individual whose life and the events therein cannot be repeated. The second little boy – the one that mouths off to the Priest – is more representative of something general.

So far, that’s just speculation. But the two poems in Innocence – “The Little Boy Lost,” “The Little Boy Found” – seem to indicate that what that child is going through is unique. His mortal father has walked too fast and does not speak to him. One wonders when a father would do such a thing: perhaps when a father is leaving the family? Or when a father is dead? Either way, the child finds that the father is moving away and is not speaking – there is no guidance physical or intellectual.

The child is surrounded by wetness, and “deep” I think is the key word. You don’t have to read far in the Bible to see what might be alluded to here: Are these the waters of Chaos surrounding the child? God’s breath hovers over those waters, and separates them and creates order, creates our Universe. Here, there doesn’t seem to be a God yet (at least not until the kid is found). There is only a mortal vapor flying away, and that last idea shows fully what the “mire” is: this boy wants to know what Death is, and of course no mortal can speak to him about that well, even having advanced on the path toward it.

To sum up “The Little Boy Lost:” In the face of death, our guide for life is uncertain. Death is a great equalizer in that the problem can be confronted by young and old, and negate all opinions each has, if it doesn’t just take us away outright. We’re all lost when we ask the question “Am I going to die?” But once such a heavy question is asked, divine answers can make themselves available. All one has to do is invert the hopelessness.

The thing about “The Little Boy Found” is that it starts with the idea that this kid was led by a “wand’ring light.” That means that if these two poems are about what we know or don’t know, then the kid was asking the right questions, but getting answers that didn’t quite add up. God appears in contrast to the light, and appears “like” the boy’s father.

Why wouldn’t God be the boy’s father? Every other prayer begins “Heavenly Father,” no? And what God is doing for the boy here is nothing short of a miracle – that must mean this boy has some closeness to God that everyone does not necessarily have. And yet Blake tells us “like,” and I have asserted that the title does indicate this is a singular happening.

The mother is perhaps the key. In looking for the boy, she became pale with tears. She was not afraid for herself, and thus demonstrated Beatitude: in mourning, she was comforted. It could be that all little boys are led back by God through pure coincidence, but the real coincidence is that love, virtue and happiness meet again even after confrontation with the question of death. Not everyone is a mother: many of us are more like the children wandering far away. In this age it could be said we’re all wandering, as we have an attitude that makes it impossible to go back to our mothers. That attitude is amply demonstrated in “A Little Boy Lost,” the Songs of Experience poem, and that attitude might be close to the truth of things, if not divinity.

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