The Little Black Boy

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


In this child-monologue the child's mother consoles the child with a vision of a better life to come, away from the prejudices and hardship of this life, and the child accepts this, encouraging him to a further vision of leading little white English boy to God and Heaven. Throughout the poem, there are references to 'black' and 'white', Blake plays around with the traditional associations between 'white' and 'good', but also, in the little black boy's views on Soul/Body, makes the point that colour is skin deep, but colour is no indication of spiritual state. The poem should, perhaps, be approached in the light of British attitudes towards missionaries and arguments about the abolition of slavery in the late eighteenth century.


My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but oh! my soul is white.
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black as if bereaved of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say:

"Look on the rising sun, - there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away;
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive

Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learned the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear his voice
Saying: 'Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice!' "

Thus did my mother say, and kissed me;
And thus I say to little English boy:

When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

I'll shade him from the heat till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our father's knee;
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.


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