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English Literature

Language

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How does the language of these poems work to convey their meaning? As well as the actual words on the page, we need to consider the sound they make, and any imagery [imagery: Vivid 'word pictures' used by a writer to conjure up a mental image of something. ] the poet creates with them.

Language of The Little Boy Lost

A little boy lost at night

Picture courtesy of Carl Nathan Jones

  • The first stanza [stanza: A group of lines of poetry that make up a unit - like a paragraph in a piece of prose; a verse. ] of the first poem is written in the first person [first person: The 'I' or 'we' used by a narrator who is a participant in a narrative, in contrast to the third person - 'he', 'she' or 'they' - of a narrator who is not directly involved. ]. So we 'hear' the little boy's pleas to his father. It is dramatic [dramatic: To do with a drama or play. A description or portrayal that is vivid and immediate - as if it is being acted out in front of you. Something that is tense or exciting. ]: we are immediately involved with what is happening, and this makes the boy's plight seem more desperate.
  • From then on, the poems are written in the third person [third person: The verb form that indicates the action is being done neither by the speaker ('I') or by the person being addressed ('you') but by a third person - a 'he', 'she' or 'they'. ]. This initially adds to our anxiety about the child: if he is not speaking any more, what has happened to him? But we are reassured in The Little Boy Found, because we trust the 'storyteller' poet, who knows what has happened and narrates the happy ending.
  • The last word of stanza 1 is "lost". It creates a sense of foreboding, especially when we do not hear the answer from the father that we may have been expecting. We are horrified that the father leaves the child. We do not know whether he loses him accidentally in the dark night, or on purpose. Either way, he is not fulfilling his duties as a parent.
  • Stanza 2 uses simple statements - ("The night was dark", "no father was there") - to show the abandoned child's terrifying situation. We know he weeps. The danger has increased: he is wet and cold, surrounded by swamps, and the phosphorescent "vapour" that may have provided him with some light disappears. All is dark.

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Back to William Blake: The Little Boy Lost / The Little Boy Found index

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