The Little Black Boy by William Blake

TheLittle Black Boy by William Blake

WilliamBlake’s poem, TheLittle Black Boy, publishedin 1789 in the Songsof Innocence,is told from a child’s perspective. Blake’s was an Englishpainter and poet whose poetry was primarily for children. In TheLittle Black Boy,Blakecenters on the callous treatment of children where they weresubjected to forced labor and slavery under harsh conditions. Thepoem sympathized with children in the 18thcentury however, it seems to question further some of the neglectedassumptions of adult society. It depicts Blake as an activist withprogressive ideas based on slavery suppression during a period whereslavery was legal globally. In particular, Blake seems to talk aboutsensitive issues from the perspective of a child. While Blake’spoem has been deemed as a work of astonishing intricacy, this paperaims to show how “The Little Black Boy” succeeds as poetry.

Blake’spoem, TheLittle Black Boy,is about an African child who learns about his identity and God forthe first time. He learns that his origin is from “the southernwild” (line 1). He explains that his even though his skin is dark,his soul is white. He also relates to his mother’s teaching aboutGod highlighting God’s divine love for everyone irrespective ofskin color. In an attempt to safeguard the child’s self-esteem, themother comforts the child by telling him that God is the giver oflight, joy, and comfort. He is also told that his dark skin is acloud that will dissipate once his soul meets God. The African childpasses the message to a white child, where he strives to explain tothe white boy that his skin is also a cloud that will also dissipatewhen they go to heaven. He assures the white boy once they are freeof worldly identity (their skin colors), the white boy will learnabout God’s love.

TheLittle Black Boy succeedsas poetry because it comprises of six verses, each forming a quatrainwith iambic pentameter, and nearly all lines of the poem have tensyllables. It is written in the first-person singular and the personaof the poem is a “little black boy.” Other than the form of thepoem, Blake seems to depict a transcendent awareness to a deificlove, which is beyond race. The person of the poem is a “littleblack boy” who seems to reconcile himself to the fact that he is anAfrican child. The author of the poem uses the imagery of dark andlight to develop the whole poem. For example, in the first verse,Blake strives to show contrast between the little boy’s skin colorand his conviction in his soul’s whiteness, thus evoking feelingsof sadness to his self-understanding. The popular white and blackdualism has an extensive metaphorical usage, where the contrastsymbolizes good and bad. In Blake’ poem, the child seems to developa sense of identity while at the same time he seems to understand hisplace in light of white and black. “Black is bereav’d of color”(line 8), is a statement that seems to make his understanding ofblack and white identity graver. However, his thinking,understanding, and interpretation of the black and white willeventually indicate that he believes he deserves equal treatment as awhite child.

Blakeuses the boy’s mother to symbolize selfless love, which is theobjective of the poem. Blake uses the mother to depict maternalinstincts, which encompass looking out for their children, showingconcern, and giving advice. The mother is concerned that the boymight feel inferior and suggest ways of comforting him, giving himhope that it will get better. She uses religion to console the child.In particular, she teaches the child the way of Christian doctrines,making him understand that there is a higher being looking over himand one who does not care about color but treats everyone equally.Additionally, according to Christianity, the boy must understand thathis life on earth is temporary and that there is a better place inheaven where white or black does not matter. His mother likens Blackto a cloud that will disappear “when our souls have learn’d theheat to bear” (line 18). White and black, soul and body, and earthand heaven are used rhetorically to validate Christianity submission.Blake uses the poem to suggest that persevering earthly problems willearn rewards in heaven. Perhaps what Blake intended to portray byhaving the mother teach the child about God was so that the boy couldfind comfort in a world full of injustices and disappointments.

Ontop of having many contrasts in the poem, for example, white andblack, heaven and earth, life and death, or silver and golden,Blake’s poem succeeds in poetry using similes. Examples of similesinclude, in the first stanza, “White as an angel…” and “I amblack, as if bereaved of light,” and in the sixth stanza, “Andround the test of God like lambs we joy.” Metaphors have also beenextensively used in the poem, for example, “the southern wild”refers to Africa, “before the heat of the day” in the sixth verseto denote dawn, as well as at the start of the third quatrain, “atthe rising sun” to mean Heaven or God’s Kingdom. Furthermore,other than symbolizing the mother, other symbolisms that Blakeemploys in the poem is the “heat,” which appears thrice in thepoem. For example, the persona articulate that God “gives Hislight, and gives Heat away” (line 10), where the word “heat”could denote love. This assumption stems from the fact that fourlines below, the persona states “we may learn to bear the beams oflove” (line 14), which could be translated to mean the sun’sbeams produce heat and represent God’s heaven, where He lives.

Conclusively,Blake’s poem, “The Little Black Boy” is about an African childwho learns about his identity for first time. Blake’s poem succeedsas poetry for a number of reasons. First, its form is arranged in amanner that aids in communicating the message in a poetic manner.Poetry strives to evoke feelings and emotions in the way it usesrhythmic and aesthetic language. Thus, the poem is arranged in heroicquatrains, uses similes, metaphors, and symbolism to achievedifferent objectives of the poem. For example, the author symbolizesthe child’s mother to depict unconditional love. The mother givesadvice to the child, explains the way of this world and links it toChristianity. Blake uses white and black imagery to develop the poemand achieve its objective of provoking feelings about racism andinequality. Thus, Blake’s poem succeeds as poetry because itutilizes different poetic devices to engage readership in mattersthat affect their everyday life such as racism and inequality.


Blake,William. “The Little Black Boy.” TheProject Gutenberg Ebook Songs of Innocence and Experience By Blake&quot.Ocw.Nust.Na, 2008,