Another poem featuring a child as the inquiring human spirit, “A Little Boy Lost” presents an honest search for understanding on the part of the titular boy. He recognizes that love is at first selfish, that no one seems capable of loving another more than himself, and that human “Thought” cannot know anything “greater than itself” (for example, God in His true divine nature). The boy sincerely asks, “Father, how can I love you,/Or any of my brothers more?” since he loves like a little bird “that picks up crumbs around the door.”
The boy’s sincere inquiry and humble recognition of his own limitations are taken by a nearby priest as blasphemy. The older man grabs the boy “by his little coat” to the admiration of all onlookers. The priest then stands upon the altar and holds the boy up as a “fiend” for all to see and vilify. To the priest, the boy “sets reason up for judge/Of our most holy Mystery.” In other words, the boy places human thought above the unfathomable faith of the church. In an act of almost unthinkable cruelty, the priest ignores the boy’s and his parents’ cries for mercy, strips the boy “to his little shirt,” binds the lad in an iron chain, and burns him “in a holy place.” This spectacle echoes the burning at the stake done to alleged heretics by the Inquisition and other religious authorities. The poet concludes with a question that is really a condemnation: “Are such things done on Albions shore?”
"A Little Boy Lost" is a poem of six heroic quatrains. The first stanza is a sort of prologue or meditation on the nature of love, particularly of the self and Thought. The second stanza continues this meditation, but the inclusion of "Father" addressed here indicates to the reader that this is a prayer. The speaker of this prayer is a child, himself in turn overheard by a priest. Unfortunately, the priest disapproves of the boy's prayer and from this point on the poem becomes the harrowing tale of the boys' punishment at the hands of a narrow-minded, vindictive clergyman.
While the actual burning alive of a blasphemous boy may never have taken place in the England of Blake’s day, the poet witnessed the abuse of Innocence by those with religious authority. In continuing the themes taken up in “The Garden of Love,” “The Little Vagabond,” and “The Human Abstract,” Blake questions a religious system that would denounce human reason as inadequate for apprehending spiritual truth. Blake explains his philosophy that extols human rationality as a means of understanding spiritual matters, but simultaneously rejects reason as a more powerful force than imagination. The little boy exemplifies both: he is thinking through his beliefs, but dares to ask his imagined questions of this seemingly unknowable heavenly Father. That the boy addresses God with his questions, rather than the earth-bound church authority of the priest, shows that Blake seeks to relate to God outside the confines of the intellectually and emotionally repressive religious institutions of his day.