Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Songs of Innocence and of Experience Summary and Analysis of "The Little Vagabond"


In an 1839 edition of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, this poem was considered too subversive of authority and was omitted. The title character complains to his mother that the church is too cold, whereas the alehouse is much warmer and friendlier. He suggests that if ale were served in church, parishioners would stay longer and enjoy their time of fellowship, and few would desire to leave the church or avoid regular attendance. The “Parson might drink & preach & sing”, while everyone present would be as happy as “birds in the spring.”


This four-stanza poem consists of quatrains, most of which are AABB, with two rhyming couplets, in structure. The only exception is the first stanza, which rhymes ABCC. Whereas many of Blake's poems in Songs of Experience break down into slant rhyme, this poem begins with the discordant rhyme and rights itself. This structure parallels the development of the poem, in which the little vagabond begins with what is wrong with the church of his day and concludes with a statement of the way things should be. This makes "The Little Vagabond" stand out in Songs of Experience as a poem which injects the voice of Innocence, albeit an Innocence that has some Experience, into the cynical and weary world of Experience.

In fact, the little vagabond believes that if church were more like an alehouse, with a more merry atmosphere all around, then God the Father would see His people happy and would no longer find fault with “the Devil or the Barrel,” thereby eradicating sin in general and the sin of drunkenness entirely. Blake sees the appeal of the public houses over the staid and restrictive ecclesiastical environment, and feels, as expressed in other poems such as “Holy Thursday” and “The Garden of Love,” that religious authority is unnecessarily impeding mankind’s appreciation of the spiritual through his experience and pleasure in the natural world.