English Literature

Subject

A good way to start thinking about a poem is to read it a couple of times and make sure you are clear about what all the words mean. This is especially important with poems that are over 200 years old like this one. Next, ask yourself what the poem's subject matter is? A poem's subject is not the same as its meaning. Poems communicate their meaning in a number of different ways - not just through the everyday meaning of the words. But asking yourself what is this poem about? is a good place to start.

The first poem

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The Little Boy Lost

'Father father, where are you going?Oh do not walk so fast!Speak father, speak to your little boyOr else I shall be lost.'The night was dark, no father was there,The child was wet with dew;The mire was deep, and the child did weep,And away the vapour flew.

A little boy lost at night

Picture courtesy of Carl Nathan Jones

The second poem

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The Little Boy Found

The little boy lost in the lonely fen,Led by the wand'ring 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 daleHer little boy weeping sought.

Light in the darkness

Picture courtesy of Luca Picciau

Vocabulary

WordsDescription
mire (Lost, line 7)swamp or bog
vapour (Lost, line 8)phosphorescent marsh lights, also known as will-o'-the-wisp
fen (Found, line 1)marshy ground
nigh (Found, line 3)near
dale (Found, line 7)valley

What are they about?

Father leaving boy

The Little Boy Lost is about a boy walking with his father through marshy land at night. He becomes separated from his father and is obviously in danger. Even the "vapour" that might have provided him with some light disappears, so he is left alone in total darkness.

Illuminated figure

The Little Boy Found is about the finding of the lost boy, who has been following a 'wandr'ing light'. God appears and leads him back to his mother, who has been searching for him. Strangely, she was searching for him in the dale, not the fen. This could be interpreted as meaning she was in the wrong place and would not have found him without God's help.

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