“The Little Vagabond” by William Blake


Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold;
But the Alehouse is healthy, & pleasant, and warm.
Besides, I can tell where I am use’d well;
Such usage in heaven will never do well.

But, if at the Church they would give us some Ale,
And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,
We’d sing and we’d pray all the livelong day,
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray.

Then the Parson might preach, and drink, & sing,
And we’d be as happy as birds in the spring;
And modest dame Lurch, who is always at church,
Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birch.

And God, like a father, rejoicing to see
His children as pleasant and happy as He,
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel,
But kiss him, & give him both drink and apparel.

On the surface, this seems like a poem that criticizes the Church for its doctrine of austerity. The speaker asserts that if the Church would be more festive that it would attract more followers. While this is a perfectly legitimate interpretation, I see other symbolism buried within the verse.

Firstly, I see this as a pagan song. The speaker is addressing the Mother, with a capital M. It is a sign of reverence. We also have images of ale and bonfires, which are common in pagan rituals. It is also worth noting that the Christian god is not referred to as the Father, but instead he is “like a father.”

The other thing that struck me was the illustration. At the top, God is huddled with a naked male figure. In the last two lines of the poem, we have an image of God reconciling with the devil and offering him “both drink and apparel.” I believe that this image atop the illustration is God and Lucifer together, especially since the naked figure’s skin is tinted red. Also worth noting is the position of the two figures; it is almost as if they are forming a yin/yang symbol. One could say that the two are not in conflict, but are opposite energies or archetypes that complement each other, and when brought together create a whole.

This universal symbol of God and Lucifer complementing each other then becomes a symbol for humanity. In order to reach spiritual completeness, we must find a way to balance our positive and negative energies. Both are essential and neither should be denied or excluded. It is only when we find our balance between dark and light, male and female, positive and negative, conscious and subconscious, that we will become fully realized beings.



Filed under Literature

7 responses to ““The Little Vagabond” by William Blake

  1. Weird coincidence indeed but maybe something is in the air. I have actually been talking about Lucifer quite a bit recently and thinking about these issues. I really love the poem you selected and the image as well. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is also sheer brilliance. I am reading this book on Blake right now and can thoroughly recommend it:

    • Hmm. The book does look interesting, but $51 for a paperback is a little pricey for me right now. I’ll have to do some searching and see if I can pick up a used copy for cheaper 😉


  2. Blake had a fearless, adventurous imagination and his works can seem self-contradictory at times. But as Emerson said, “Consistency is the bugaboo of small minds.” Great post, hadn’t read this poem deeply before. His engravings are just incredible, aren’t they?

  3. One more thing: the question of “voice” in this poem. Blake was often a social and religious critic and it’s not clear here if he is doing a spoof of a certain kind of weak “Christian.” It’s dangerous to take Blake literally. We can completely miss what a poem is about.

  4. The title of the poem itself suggests the speaker is a “wanderer” without a home, perhaps one unattached to anything “firm.” E.g., human and frail

    • Hi Margaret.

      Thanks for your comments. You bring up some great points and questions.

      Firstly, I agree that his engravings are amazing and often studying the images will affect how the poem is interpreted.

      I also agree that you cannot take Blake literally, but I do think that he consciously wove literal and symbolic expressions into his works.

      Finally, yes, I believe the speaker is the wanderer, but I believe this in the spiritual sense. He is without a “home” because he is separated from the divine and thus wandering through the human existence.

      As always, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I hope you have a wonderful holiday and new year!!