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“The Little Black Boy” by William Blake

The rhythmic picture of the poem aims to convey the words of a little black boy as if it were a direct speech. For this purpose, William Blake constructed the stanzas of the poem as quatrains with the rhyme pattern “ABAB,” and most importantly, used the iambic pentameter. According to Ghazvininejad, “to generate a line of iambic pentameter poetry,” one should “arrange words to form a sequence of ten syllables alternating between stressed and unstressed” (1184).

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This poetic meter recreates human speech as part of an epic or dramatic narrative. This choice is extremely appropriate in the case of this poem, as the author appeals to the values of the Christian faith in relation to the lack of freedom of the black population. The rhythmic of this poetic meter makes The Little Black Boy look like a dramatic ballad. In a certain sense, the poem is a ballad because it expresses the main character’s innocent reflections on the people’s external inequality and the equal internal spirituality in a musical and rhythmic manner.

It is also noteworthy that the whole poem is a direct speech or the thoughts of a little black boy. At the same time, the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas are the words of his mother, describing the unity of human souls in accordance with the Christian faith. The poem makes no formal distinction between the boy’s speech and that of his mother. Given the co-direction and agreement of the ideas expressed by both characters, this technique can be a sign of unity between mother and child in faith and recognition of their spiritual essence.

Both characters use a fairly simple language with straightforward grammatical and syntactic formulas, which is not accidental. Clear and direct expression of thoughts is characteristic of innocent personalities who have nothing to hide. William Blake emphasizes the purity of the little boy and his mother, which also rather corresponds to their reasoning about the secondary nature of external human manifestations and the primary importance of the soul.

With a similar purpose, the author uses pronounced and obvious rhymes such as “wild” and “child,” “white,” and “light.” First, this technique also emphasizes the clarity and simplicity of the ideas behind the boy’s and his mother’s reasoning. Secondly, the poem becomes very easy to read, and this easiness is associated primarily with light and naive mindset, which is peculiar to innocent creatures.

It should be noted that William Blake often uses comparisons and metaphors in this poem. Examples may be found in the first stanza – “white as an angel…”, in the fourth stanza – “… like a shady grove”, and in the fifth stanza – “… like lambs rejoice”. These comparisons are created on the principle of contrasting light and dark, black, and white. This opposition highlights the seeming inequality and difference between black and white people. The poem itself is a reflection of a little black boy of the color of his skin, which initially seemed to him worse than “white as an angel.”

However, in the end, the boy concludes with the help of his mother’s words that all people are alike. Their souls are equal, and this idea is emphasized by the last comparison in the seventh stanza – “and be like him…”. The mother’s reasoning exactly involves the central metaphor of the poem, which allows the little black boy to experience his purity. In the third stanza, she describes God’s presence through the glow of the sun’s rays, to which black leather is best suited. Thus, the little black boy is simply endowed with the love of God.

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Ghazvininejad, Marjan, et al. “Generating Topical Poetry.” Proceedings of the 2016 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing Held 2016 at Austin, Texas, Association for Computational Linguistics, 2016, 1183–1191.

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