In many of these poems, Blake uses words like night or dark or light or bright as a way to contrast ideas or characters. However, he doesn't always use the words to mean the same things in the...

In many of these poems, Blake uses words like night or dark or light or bright as a way to contrast ideas or characters. However, he doesn't always use the words to mean the same things in the poems. How does Blake employ the "night/light" contrast in the following?

"The Little Boy Lost" and "The Little Boy Found" pairing

"The Tyger"

"The Chimney Sweeper" from Songs of Innocence

"The Sick Rose"

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his writings, the pre-Romantic poet William Blake often considered the subject dearest to him; namely,the destiny of the human spirit. This human spirit, of course, often found itself enmeshed in the everlasting struggle of good versus evil. In Songs of Innocence, Blake suggests that the human spirit can reclaim the good in the wonderment of childhood and, through this innocent wonderment move toward self-awareness. Yet, Blake understands that a reclaiming of innocence is not adequate for the awareness of man's veritable identity; he must also recognize and comprehend the evils existent in the world. This awareness of wonder and of evil are often the "light/night" of his poems.

  • "The Sick Rose" - In this poem beauty in several symbolic and allegorical meanings is attacked by "the invisible worm/That flies in the night." That is, innocence is lost in the "night" of sin and its "dark secret love," its evil, destroys love and beauty.
  • "The Little Boy Lost"/"The Little Boy Found" - In the first of these poems, there is no overt or literal mention of either word, light or night. However, in a metaphoric sense, the "Priest" [whose name is capitalized, suggesting a high priest of paganism] represents the darkness and evil of his "holy mystery" that would burn heretics in "Albion" (i.e. Great Britain). Then, in "The Little Boy Found," the boy is lost and led by "the wandering light" of God's goodness; appearing as his father, God leads the child "through the lonely dale ("darkness"), the evil of the world, back to his mother.
  • "The Tyger" - This poem is often paired with "The Lamb," and, as such represents the evil that exists in the world alongside the innocence. The contrast of light/dark exists in the first and last stanza, thus framing the poem:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night

        The tiger deceptively appears bright, but it is a brightness of danger emanating from the "forest,"--often      symbolic of the unknown and sinister forces--of the night's evil.

  • "The Chimney Sweeper"- The pair of poems of the same name come from Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. In the one from Innocence the chimney sweep's white [light] hair represents his innocence lost as it is shaved from his head. Instead, his head is covered with soot, symbolic of the dark evil of a society that exploits children. He rises in the "dark" to do his wicked job. The chimneys are metaphoric "coffins of black," an evil environment that deforms and kills little boys. When the boy dies he is naked and white, an angel going to heaven. In the poem of Experience, "A little black thing among the snow," is the opening line; the little chimney sweep, black from the soot of his wicked job, he lies in the whiteness of the snow, the purity of nature, as he has been abandoned by his parents, who shelter themselves in institutionalized religion which condones their actions.
Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Blake's "The Little Boy Lost," the concept of darkness is coupled with the image of a father who is not paying any attention to the needs of his lost child:

The night was dark no father was there/The child was wet with dew./The mire was deep, & the child did weep/And away the vapour flew.

Blake's juxtaposition of the absent father and dark night intensifies the loneliness of the child, who seems literally to be not only lost in the dark night of the wilderness but also abandoned by the one person the child should be able to depend upon.  The sense of darkness is enhanced by "the mire," which is inherently dark itself, through which the child is walking.  The dominant impression Blake creates in this poem is darkness, abandonment, loneliness.

The child's redemption from darkness and loneliness is explicit in "The Little Boy Found."  Although he has been, in an ironic use of light,  mis-led by the "wandering light," which should have led him out of the "lonely fen" but fails to do so, his true father, in the form of God who has not abandoned him, appears "in white" to lead back him to his mother.

In three of the poems, darkness becomes a metaphor for abandonment, especially in the context of earthly fathers, contrasted with the light of heavenly salvation.  In "The Sick Rose," darkness conceals death in the form of the "invisible worm," and there is no possibility of redemption by light or God.  "The Tyger" depicts a brightness that holds nothing but menace--a predatory light glowing in the eyes of an animal whose existence may or may not be framed by the God of The Songs of Innocence.