“The Little Black Boy” by William Blake

About the poem

A black child tells the story of how he came to know his own identity and to know God. The boy, who was born in “the southern wild” of Africa, first explains that though his skin is black his soul is as white as that of an English child. He relates how his loving mother taught him about God who lives in the East, who gives light and life to all creation and comfort and joy to men. “We are put on earth,” his mother says, to learn to accept God’s love. He is told that his black skin “is but a cloud” that will be dissipated when his soul meets God in heaven. The black boy passes on this lesson to an English child, explaining that his white skin is likewise a cloud. He vows that when they are both free of their bodies and delighting in the presence of God, he will shade his white friend until he, too, learns to bear the heat of God’s love. Then, the black boy says, he will be like the English boy, and the English boy will love him.

This poem centres on a spiritual awakening to a divine love that transcends race. The speaker is an African child who has to come to terms with his own blackness. Blake builds the poem on clear imagery of light and dark. The contrast in the first stanza between the child’s black skin and his belief in the whiteness of his soul lends poignancy to his particular problem of self-understanding. In a culture in which black and white connote bad and good, respectively, the child’s developing sense of self requires him to perform some fairly elaborate symbolic gymnastics with these images of colour. His statement that he is “black as if bereav’d of light” underscores the gravity of the problem. The gesture of his song will be to counteract this “as if” in a way that shows him to be as capable and deserving of perfect love as a white person is.

The child’s mother symbolizes a natural and selfless love that becomes the poem’s ideal. She shows a tender concern for her child’s self-esteem, as well as a strong desire that he know the comfort of God. She persuades him, according to conventional Christian doctrine that earthly life is but a preparation for the rewards of heaven. In this context, their dark skin is similar but a temporary appearance, with no bearing on their eternal essence: skin, which is a factor only in this earthly life, becomes irrelevant from the perspective of heaven. Body and soul, black and white, and earth and heaven are all aligned in a rhetorical gesture that basically confirms the stance of Christian resignation: the theology of the poem is one that counsels forbearance in the present and promises a recompense for suffering in the hereafter.

Summary of the Poem

“The Little Black Boy” is one of the noblest religious poems written by William Blake, a romantic poet and a mystic. His poems are very simple but they express deep thoughts and philosophy. He is famous for his two books of poems “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience”. The first book deals with the beautiful world of infancy, childhood and happiness. The second book deals with the cruel and harsh world. Blake as a lyrical poet is unsurpassed. His vocabulary is as simple as that of a child. Every lyric is a window into the imaginative world. His poetic works embody some of the most perfect and most original lyrics in English language.

“The Little Black Boy” was to some extent inspired by contemporary indignation against slavery and the supposed inferiority of the black races. Negro boys were fashionable as servants in some of the big London houses, and that is possibly where Blake met them. In this poem, the poet gives the idea that all are equal. He believes in universal love and brotherhood. God gives his light and heat to all. He loves all persons equally. It is a deeply poignant poem showing the lengths to which a black child might have to go to demonstrate that he too is an object of God’s love. The poem is roughly divided into three parts. The first part consisting of the first stanza conveys vividly a Negro Child’s intense pain and agony arising out of racial consciousness. The boy feels a sense of self-hatred and inferiority on account of his being black. It seems to the Negro boy that he is less favoured by God because he bereaved of light,’ while the English boy is the recipients of God’s favour because he is ‘white as an angel’.

The second part, consisting of the next four stanzas, offers his mother’s consoling vision to the child. The mother tries to release his pain and agony by telling him that our earthly existence is mere probation which prepares us for our next life in heaven. His mother teaches him that God gives his light to everyone on this earth. The rays of the sun give equal joy to all flowers, trees, animals and men. God sends human beings on the earth so that they love one another. We should learn to give and take love from one another. She reassures him that our body is a mere fleeting cloud, the function of which is to absorb the beams of God’s love. These blackbodies are like clouds and shady groves. These ‘cloud’ and ‘shady grove’ of the body are mere filters filtering God’s brilliance and luminosity. She tries to instil in her son a feeling of pride and self-worth by telling him that his black body is better adapted than the English boy’s white body to bearing God’s love.

The third part, consisting of the last two stanzas, presents the heightened awareness of the black child. On being reassured by his mother, the black boy passes on his mother’s message to the white boy. The negro boy fondly hopes that he and the English boy, once released from black and white bodies, will play together in heaven. He feels that he will be able to make the English child love him in heaven not by playing with him and shielding him from God’s heat or luminosity, but by serving him and also by being like him the English child could not possibly love a coloured boy! The little black boy feels a subtle sense of inferiority even in heaven.

Explain with reference to the Context:

Stanza 1

My mother …………………………. Bereaved of light

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ written by William Blake, a romantic poet. His poems are simple but they express deep thoughts and philosophy. Here in this poem, Blake gives the idea that all of us are equal. A Negro boy is the speaker of the poem and he says that he is black as he was born in Africa. English is white because he was born in England. But the Negro boy tries to convince himself that despite his black body, he is blessed with white soul by God. God give his mercy to all equally, whether he is a Negro or a white boy.

Explanation:-

The speaker of these lines is a Negro boy. He says that he was born in Africa so, he is black-skinned. The black boy is feeling a kind of self-hatred. He is conscious of his blackness. But he consoles himself and says that his soul is white like others. He compares himself with the English boy. The white boy shines like an angel. The Negro boy laments the denial of the whiteness of him by God. He feels that God has ignored him by depriving him of light or whiteness.

Stanza 2

My mother taught …………………………. in the noonday.

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ written by William Blake, a romantic poet. His poems are simple but they express deep thoughts and philosophy. Here in this poem, Blake gives the idea that all of us are equal. A Negro boy is the speaker of the poem and he says that he is black as he is born in Africa. English is white because he was born in England. But the Negro boy tries to convince himself that despite his black body, he is blessed with white soul by God. God give his mercy to all equally, whether he is a Negro or a white boy.

Explanation:-

In these lines, the Negro boy says that his mother offers a consoling vision to him. The black boy’s mother taught him under a tree. She tries to lessen his pain and agony by telling him that our earthly existence is mere probation which prepares us for our next life in heaven. She took the boy in her lap and kissed him. Then she pointed towards the East and calmed him down. She asked him to look towards the rising sun. She said that God lived in that place. God is kind and great. He gives his light and heat to everyone equally in this world. All the things of world-flowers, trees, animals and men receive God’s kindness and comforts. They get comfort in the morning and joy n the afternoon.

Stanza 3

“And we are …………………………… lambs rejoice

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ written by William Blake, a romantic poet. His poems are simple but they express deep thoughts and philosophy. Here in this poem, Blake gives the idea that all of us are equal. A Negro boy is the speaker of the poem and he says that he is black as he was born in Africa. An English is white because he is born in England. But the Negro boy tries to convince himself that despite his black body, he is blessed with white soul by God. God give his mercy to all equally, whether he is a Negro or a white boy.

Explanation:-

In these lines, the black boy’s mother is trying to console him. She tells him that God is very kind. He has sent human beings on the earth so that they may receive God’s ways of kindness. She tells him that our short-lived stay on this earth has a divine purpose behind it and that purpose is to acclimatise ourselves for our next life in heaven where we shall be face to face with God. The black bodies of Negroes are only like a cloud and group of trees which are shady. Blake here imagines the body as a garment the soul must wear on earth. These back bodies and faces are compared to clouds and shady groves shielding the soul from the intense heat and light of God. But when our souls have learnt to receive God’s rays of Kindness, this cloud will vanish. It suggests the equality of everyone before God, and then we will hear the kind voice of God. He will ask the black boy to come out of the grove. He will ask both the black and white boys to come and play around his golden tent like little lambs. In other words, it suggests that in heaven the children will be equal and play around God’s golden tent. This description makes us think of a new life in heaven, i.e. life after death. In these lines, heaven is compared to the ‘golden tent’ and the children are compared to ‘lambs’ because of their innocence and gentleness.

Stanza 4

Thus did …………………………………then love me

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ written by William Blake, a romantic poet. His poems are simple but they express deep thoughts and philosophy. Here in this poem, Blake gives the idea that all of us are equal. A Negro boy is the speaker of the poem and he says that he is black as he was born in Africa. An English is white because he is born in England. But the Negro boy tries to convince himself that in spite his black body, he is blessed with white soul by God. God give his mercy to all equally, whether he is a Negro or a white boy.

Explanation:-

In these lines, the poet says that the Negro boy’s mother consoles him and teaches him the lesson of universal love. She says that when both the Negro boy and the English boy are free of their mortal bodies and are in the presence of God in heaven, they will be equal before God. In heaven, the black boy and white boy will play joyfully like little innocent Lambs around the golden tent of God. He says that he will protect the white boy from the excessive heat of the day because he by being black and better accustomed to bearing excessive heat, will shield the white complexioned English boy from being scorched by the heat of God’s luminosity. He will learn to lean upon the knee of God who is our father. The Negro boy will stroke the silver hair of the English boy. By doing so, he will also be like the white boy who will then love him. Here the Little Negro boy still feels a suitable sense of inferiority because he wants to be a white as the English boy even in heaven. The ‘silver hair’ is the prized possession of the English boy which the Little Black boy would like to ‘stroke’.

Questions -Answer (Essay Type)

Q.1. Critically examine the development of thought in the poem “The Little Black Boy”

Ans.: A Negro boy is the speaker of this poem. He says that he was born in Africa. The heat of the sun made his body black. But his soul is white. The little black boy takes lessons taught by his mother as a guide to living fully and with understanding. She tells him that after death, all will be equal in heaven. There will be no difference between black and white in the eyes of God. The black boy says that his body is black because he has learnt to bear the heat of God’s rays. When they go the heaven, he will shield the white boy from the heat of these rays. The black boy knows that he is different from the white boy in appearance. Perhaps that gives him silent pain. That is why he longs to be like the white boy. Form her mother he comes to know that these black bodies are like clouds and shady groves. When the soul realizes the warmth of God’s love, the clouds shall disappear. Then the soul will be free from racial hatred. He and the white English boy will play around God’s tent-like lambs. Both of them will equally receive God’s love. They will learn to live together in love. He will lovingly stroke the white boy’s silver hair.

The white boy will also love him.

“The Little Black Boy” was to some extent inspired by contemporary indignation against slavery and the supposed inferiority of the black races. Negro boys were fashionable as servants in some of the big London houses, and that is possibly where Blake met them. In this poem, the poet gives the idea that all are equal. He believes in universal love and brotherhood. Good gives his light and heat to all. He loves all persons equally. It is a deeply poignant poem showing the lengths to which a black child might have to go to demonstrate that he too is object of God’s love. The poem is roughly divided into three parts. The first part consisting of the first stanza conveys vividly a Negro Child’s intense pain and agony arising out of racial consciousness. The boy feels a sense of self-hatred and inferiority on account of his being black. It seems to the Negro boy that he is less favoured by God because he is bereaved of light,’ while the English boy is the recipients of God’s favour because he is ‘white as an angel’.

The second part, consisting of the next four stanzas, offers his mother’s consoling vision to the child. The mother tries to comfort his pain and agony by telling him that our earthly existence is mere probation which prepares us for our next life in heaven. His mother teaches him that God gives his light to everyone on this earth. The rays of the sun give equal joy to all flowers, trees, animals and men. God sends human beings on the earth so that they love one another. We should learn to give and take love from one another. She reassures him that our body is a mere fleeting cloud, the function of which is to absorb the beams of God’s love. These blackbodies are like clouds and shady groves. These ‘cloud’ and ‘shady grove’ of the body are mere filters filtering God’s brilliance and luminosity. She tries to instil in her son a feeling of pride and self-worth by telling him that his black body is better adapted than the English boy’s white body for bearing God’s love.

The third part, consisting of the last two stanzas, presents the heightened awareness of the black child. On being reassured by his mother, the black boy passes on his mother’s message to the white boy. The negro boy fondly hopes that he and the English boy, once released from black and white bodies, will play together in heaven. He feels that he will be able to make the English child love him in heaven not by playing with him and shielding him from God’s heat or luminosity, but by serving him and also by being like him. The English child could not possibly love a coloured boy! The little black boy feels a subtle sense of inferiority even in heaven.

Q.2. Recount how the mother of the black boy tries to console him.

Ans.: A Negro boy is the speaker of this poem. He says that he is black. He is acutely conscious of his blackness and is full of some kind of self-hatred. He laments the denial of whiteness to him by God, whereas the white boy shines like an angle even in this life. The Negro boy feels that god has ignored him by divesting him of whiteness. But the black boy’s mother teaches him that God gives his light and love to all of us. The rays of the sun reach every creature equally. We are sent to this earth so that we love one another. God gives his love to all whether he is a black man or a white man. The mother tries to console her little child by telling him that our short-lived stay on this earth has a divine purpose behind it and that purpose is to acclimatize ourselves for our next life in heaven where we shall be face to face with God. These black bodies and faces are mere clouds or shady groves shielding the soul form the intense heat and light of God. When our souls are full of love the clouds of difference shall disappear.

Questions -Answer (Short Type)

Q.1. Where was the little back boy born?

Ans.: The little boy was born in Africa. That is why he is black and conscious of his blackness.

Q.2. Explain the meaning of ‘bereaved of light’.

Ans.: ‘Bereaved of light’ means ‘without light”. The little boy is black and Negro. He laments the denial of whiteness to him by God, whereas the white boy shines like an ‘angle’ even in this life. Here the reference is to God as the dispenser of all light because he has kept him deprived of light or the whiteness. His body has only darkness.

Q.3. What did the mother of the black boy tell him?

Ans.: The black boy’s mother consoles him by telling that God gives his light to everyone on this earth. The rays of the sun give equal joy to all flowers, trees, animals and men. God sends human begins on the earth so that they love one another. Both the black boy and the white boy are the children of God. God gives his love to all.

Q.4. Critically analyses: ‘I’ll shade him form the heat.’

Ans.: The black boy imagines that he will be with the white boy in heaven. He pathetically hopes that he, by being better accustomed to bearing excessive heat, will shield the white complexioned English boy from being scorched by the heat of God’s luminosity.

Q.5. Write a short on the imagery of the poem.

Ans.: The poem uses many images. The little boy is black like the shade of the grove of trees. The white boy is white like an angel. The poet uses images from the Bible also. There is the image of God’s golden tent. In heaven, both the back boy and white boy will play like lambs.

“The Little Black Boy” by William Blake Summary and Solved Questions

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