Tag Archives: songs of innocence

“The Little Boy found” by William Blake

LittleBoyFoundYesterday I wrote about “The Little Boy lost,” so today it seemed appropriate to write about “The Little Boy found,” since the two poems accompany each other. Here is the poem for those who need.

The little boy lost in the lonely fen,
Led by the wandering light,
Began to cry, but God, ever nigh,
Appeared like his father, in white.

He kissed the child, and by the hand led,
And to his mother brought,
Who in sorrow pale, through the lonely dale,
The little boy weeping sought.

In “The Little Boy lost,” the child has a vision of god and the vision dissipates, leaving the boy to wander alone in the wilderness. In this poem, the boy continues his search, following the “wandering light,” which is the fading image of god from his previous vision. His search is rewarded and he is again connected with the divine presence, which leads the child back to his mother, who for me is the key character in this poem.

I see the mother as a symbol for the goddess. In the illustration that accompanies the text, the mother appears as a divine being, radiating a halo of light. Blake associates the goddess figure with the moon when he describes her as pale, a word that is often used to describe the moon. The child is now whole and fulfilled, having discovered the two halves of the godhead: the divine masculine and the divine feminine.

I think the two poems create a perfect balance and carry an important message. Often, people on the spiritual path become focused on one thing and follow that image solely, which results in them getting lost. To walk the path, one needs to have balance: male/female, god/goddess, yin/yang, darkness/light, etc. Without the inner balance, one may become lost in the wilderness and wander, unable to reestablish the connection with the divine.

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“The Little Boy lost” by William Blake

LittleBoyLostSo I finished work early today and to start the long weekend off right, decided to read some Blake. The poem’s short, so I’ll include it in the post.

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.

Like most of Blake’s poems from Songs of Innocence, the poem is simple yet spiritual. The child becomes aware of the divine spirit and longs to make contact with it, but the connection to the divine realm is fleeting and temporary, and the child is left alone in the dark wilderness of the world.

I empathize with the little boy. To connect with the divine and not to be able to sustain that connection makes you feel lost. There is a void left behind that nothing earthly can fill. Still, it is one of the most profound experiences a person can have and no one should avoid contact with the divine spirit for fear of feeling an inner vacancy afterwards. As you begin to process the experience, that vacancy is filled with a deeper wisdom and understanding. I think this is an experience that many people in the world would benefit from.

I hope you all enjoy the long weekend. Cheers!!

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“The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake (from Songs of Innocence)

ChimneySweeperI’ve read this poem before and it never bothered me. I’d always viewed it as a social commentary against the horrific child labor practices in London. But having gone to the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC this past week while on vacation, something about this poem struck me the wrong way, and while I am sure it is just my interpretation as seen through the lens of what I recently experienced, I still need to point out my issue with this poem.

Click here to read the poem online.

Most of the poem is pretty straight-forward. Innocent children are being exploited and one has a vision of an angel telling him that a better life awaits in the next realm. This vision provides hope for the child to continue with his life. It is the ending of the poem, though, that is problematic for me.

Tho’ the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm.
So if all do their duty, they need fear no harm.

This struck me as the same mentality that allowed the holocaust to occur, that quiet acquiescence in the face of abuse and human rights violations. On one hand, this is the same as the lie that “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free) which appeared above the gates to Auschwitz. It is also likely that this is the same belief that caused many Germans to go along with the atrocities, the belief that they were only doing their duty. If you think about it, how many human rights violations are committed today as a result of “doing one’s duty.” Sometimes, doing what is right means refusing to do one’s duty.

I know that Blake was progressive and supported human rights, but we must be careful when we read and interpret literature. Ideas can be twisted and reinterpreted to express the exact opposite of what was originally intended. Just think about how many atrocities have been justified by an individual’s interpretation of a religious text. Words are powerful; therefore, we must be careful when we use them.

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Sexual Symbolism in “The Blossom” by William Blake

TheBlossom I am including the poem here, since it is short.

Merry, merry sparrow!
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Sees you, swift as arrow,
Seek your cradle narrow,
Near my bosom.

Pretty, pretty robin!
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Hears you sobbing, sobbing,
Pretty, pretty robin,
Near my bosom.

Upon first reading, I got the sense of sexual symbolism here. I asked myself if I was maybe reading too much into the poem, but after reading it over a couple more times, the imagery became stronger and I definitely concluded that Blake was expressing sexuality, particularly the loss of virginity.

The blossom is a symbol of female genitalia. Nothing really new here. The flower has been an artistic representation for the vagina for as long as humans have created art. What did strike me, though, is that preceding each mention of the blossom, Blake writes “Under leaves so green.” At first glance, I thought he was saying that the birds were under the leaves, but not so. I believe that he is implying that the blossom is under the leaves go green, which leads me to see this more as symbolic of Eve’s first sexual experience in the Garden of Eden, where she covered her genitalia with a leaf after becoming sexually aware.

In the first stanza, the image of the sparrow and its comparison to an arrow seeking the “cradle narrow” represents the phallus entering the woman for the first time. Again, there is nothing remarkable here. The arrow is a fairly common phallic symbol.

Now for me, it’s the second stanza that gets interesting. We have a different bird here, the robin, and the bird is associated with sobbing. I thought about the robin and pictured the bird with the reddish patch on its belly. I concluded that the robin must symbolize either the blood that accompanies the loss of virginity (being deflowered) or menstruation. If the robin represents loss of virginity, then the sobbing is a result of being deflowered. If the robin represents menstruation, then the sobbing likely represents the sorrow of the woman realizing that she did not get pregnant. It’s also possible that Blake was expressing both.

As with so many of the poems in Songs of Innocence, this one appears simple on the surface, but becomes more complex the deeper you look. As always, feel free to share your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

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“The Little Black Boy” by William Blake: A Little Racist?

LittleBlackBoyContinuing through my copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, the next poem up was “The Little Black Boy” (click here to read the poem online). I have to say, although I love Blake’s works, this one rubbed me the wrong way. I found it to be a little racist.

The poem opens with a black boy comparing himself to a white boy and basically saying that he is “bereav’d of light” because he is black, but that the white boy is angelic.

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child: 
But I am black as if bereav’d of light.

This immediately turned me off and it was hard for me to shake my distaste as I read the rest of the poem. Even having the black boy say “but O! my soul is white” made it seem like, well, since there is some whiteness in there, the black boy is OK too. I personally find things like that to be offensive.

Now, granted, I have to consider the period in which Blake wrote this, and in defense of Blake, he was obviously trying to convey that in the eyes of the Divine, there is no difference between people based upon skin color. It is the spark of divine spirit within each of us that matters. I agree and I applaud him for expressing that at a time when not so many people were enlightened in that area. But still, it’s hard for me to read this poem today without seeing the racist slant, especially when he asserts that the black boy is really white inside. Ugh!

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“The Ecchoing Green” by William Blake

EcchoingGreen“The Ecchoing Green” is one of Blake’s poems contained in the Songs of Innocence, which I find a little strange because I see this as a poem about the cycle of life and death. For that reason, it seems like a subject that he would have addressed in the Songs of Experience.

The Ecchoing Green

The sun does arise,
And make happy the skies;
The merry bells ring
To welcome the spring;
The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around
To the bell’s cheerful sound,
While our sports shall be seen
On the Echoing Green.

Old John with white hair,
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk.
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say:
‘Such, such were the joys
When we all, girls and boys,
In our youth time were seen
On the Echoing Green.’

Till the little ones, weary,
No more can be merry;
The sun does descend,
And our sports have an end.
Round the laps of their mothers
Many sisters and brother,
Like birds in their nest,
Are ready for rest,
And sport no more seen
On the darkening Green.

(Source: poemhunter.com)

I see the poem structured to represent the three stages of life. The first stanza represents childhood and includes imagery of the Sun rising, spring, birds, and playfulness. The second stanza is about maturity, where the older generation observes the young and remembers the innocence and joy of their early years.

Finally, the third stanza symbolizes death. Here we have imagery of the sun setting, of the games coming to an end. The metaphor of being “ready for rest” evokes a weariness with life, that one is preparing for the final sleep. Also, the symbol of the “darkening Green” conjures images of grass covering a grave and contrasts with the Ecchoing Green which is growing and echoes the lives of people who lived before us.

As with so many of Blake’s poems, they seem simple on the surface, but as you look closer, you discover a depth that is not always apparent. Feel free to share your thoughts and impressions. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Cheers!

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“The Shepherd” by William Blake

BlakeShepherdI was in the mood to read some William Blake today, so I picked up my copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience and read the first poem which I had not yet covered in my blog, which was “The Shepherd.” It is very short, so I am including it here in the post.

How sweet is the Shepherd’s sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lamb’s innocent call,
And he hears the ewe’s tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.

This poem seems very simple, yet something about it puzzles me, and the more I think about it, the more puzzled I become. The first thing that struck me was the repetition of the word “sweet” in the first line. It could be that Blake was just going for an alliterative effect, but that doesn’t seem right. He was subtly hinting at something, but I am not making the connection. Then the following line ends with another alliterative: “strays.” Again, something is not sitting right with me about this. The shepherd is not straying; he is staying with the flock. I cannot figure out why Blake chose “strays” instead of “stays.”

The biggest puzzle for me though is that at the end of the first stanza, where it is said that the Shepherd’s “tongue shall be filled with praise.” This seems to contrast the entire second stanza, which to me seems to imply that the Shepherd is Christ watching over his flock. If that is the case, why would Christ follow and praise the flock? It seems that it would be the opposite, that the flock would follow and praise Christ the Shepherd. The only explanation I can come up with is that the Shepherd recognizes that there is beauty, divinity, and holiness in the flock and seeks to nurture and protect that divinity, and to sing the praises of God’s manifestation in humanity.

I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on this poem. Do you think that I am searching too deeply for hidden meaning or do you think my questions are valid? Let me know your interpretations. Cheers!!

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