I have to say that this is not one of my favorite poems by Blake. I read it twice today and both times I ended up scratching my head and not really sure how I felt about it. It’s a fairly long poem, so here is a link for those who wish to read it.
When I first read it, I felt that the little girl, Lyca, was a symbol for a virginal Eve archetype, wandering in the desert and seeking to return to the garden. But then, after the second reading, I felt maybe that she represents a young woman reaching sexual maturity. Then when I tried to figure out the symbolism connected to the lion, leopard, and tyger, it seemed more ambiguous. Is the lion being protective, like a Christ symbol, or is the lion taking sexual advantage of Lyca, as represented by his licking of her bosom and bringing her into his cave?
I don’t often look up the meaning of poems, since I like to interpret them for myself, but this one caused me to look up an academic paper on the poem. Unfortunately, this only made matters worse. Here is the paper I perused.
As you can see, even in academic circles, interpretations are all over the chart. No one seems to agree on anything regarding this poem (nor the subsequent “The Little Girl Found”). Frankly, I wish I had never looked at this. I feel more confused about this poem now than I did when I first read it.
There is one critique from this paper that I completely agree with, that of Kathleen Raine: “The poems fail, Raine argues, because Blake relies on traditional sources rather than his own imagination.” It is Blake’s imaginative power that has always drawn me to his work. If, as Raine asserts, these poems are Blake’s reworking of other allegories, that would explain why the poem feels rather ambiguous and not cohesive to me.
Despite the fact that I don’t care for this particular poem, I do love Blake’s work. But it stands to reason that when dealing with the poems of someone as prolific as William Blake, not every poem is going to be great. Still, even a not-so-great Blake poem is worth reading, and “The Little Girl Lost” falls into that category for me; not so great, but still worth reading.