"A Little GIRL Lost" Generally, discussion of "A Little Girl Lost" (like discussion of "The Little Girl Lost") focuses on Ona's fall from innocence into experience. Recently, Freudian critics have interpreted the poem as a figuring of Ona's Electra complex, yet their analyses continue to privilege the story of a young girl "falling into" sexuality.
Joseph must be allowed to find in the body a Paradise that perishes, if it is ever to know the imperishable Paradise of the Spirit" (162). Ona, an anglicization of Una, signifies "A Girl," emphasizing the character's utter loneliness and her selfishness. Following Wicksteed, Robert Gleckner reads Ona's father as a priest-king figure and as an agent of loss. Like Tirzah and Oothoon, Ona "must pursue her love affair, not clandestinely but openly, and must cut the paternal cord if she is to be free. Only such acts can find the lost soul; only by means of them can the soul 'rise from Generation free'(To Tirzah)" (104). Yet by trying to hide her love, Ona exhibits fear which "is present only in experience with its inhibitive Christianity, morality, and law" (260). Blake presents Ona's father to show "the effect of experience on new love" (260). Ravished intellectually, Ona submits to her father.
Hazard Hirsch reads "A Little Girl Lost" as "Blake's first unqualified poem of Experience" (279). Ona and her lover meet in "the Golden Age," but it is a "re-enactment of [that] Age within the present fallen world" (280). Since the Golden Age can exist in the present world "when innocent youth is free of Urizenic restrictions.... The Fall is nothing but an artificial imposition of restrictions on natural instinct." (280). Yet the present world corrupts the youths, forcing them "into night-time secrecy" and "terror and guilt before [Ona's] Urizenic father" (281). Thus, the Fall exists "only 'in the Human brain" and the Future Age -- when we throw off our restrictions on natural instinct -- will occur whenever we choose to recognize it.
D.G. Gilham's interpretation of the poem follows the pattern established by Wicksteed , yet is a closer reading than we have yet seen. Gilham regards Blake as talking "directly in his own voice" to a reader who "is the child of a future age of renewal that has answered the call of the 'Introduction' to the Songs of Experience, [and] has returned to a state in which men are innocent" (130). Although Blake alludes to Adam and Eve, "he is not specific for he wishes to refer us to any unspoiled love. Eden is perennial and the holy light is the dawning of sexual love, the possibility of a new day of knowledge" (131). Gilham focuses on the shifts in verb tense and the re-appearance (and consequently, new meanings) of words, such as "care," "fear," "holy," and "love." For example, the "care" found in the last verse is "over-anxious, possessive, secretly destructive, and a misery to those who must exercise it, [and] is contrasted with the 'care' of the one lover towards the other, outgoing and considerate [found in the second verse]" (132). When encountering her father's single loving look, Ona falls from innocence. Thus, "an act that was 'holy' and God-given in the light of Innocence is now, like the word of God, turned against fallen man, who is subject to the 'holy book', the record of his guilt and the law of what he may not do" (132). The blossoms in the last line of the poem, although reminding us of the garden, are "linked to the frozen 'whiteness' of the father, [and] the winter of a love lost in 'cares' and 'fears'" (133).
Diana Hume George puts a Freudian spin on the traditional reading of "A Little Girl Lost." Although the sexual play of Ona and her lover is innocent, "the parental perception of it is corrupt. Parents displace their own corrupt perception and project moral imperatives onto activities that are inherently innocent" (109). Ona is in the oedipal phase and has internalized her father's rejection of her as a sexual partner "as a prohibition" (110). Thus, she feels guilt when she encounters her father after agreeing to meet her lover. Ona and her father experience both fear and desire for each other when they exchange a "loving look" (110). (In fact, the "loving look" is "his" -- and therefore, I would argue, a threat to Ona). Ona's fear of "her kindly old father" is a response to his prohibitions "which produced the fear her lover overcame" (111). Following Gilham, Stanley Gardner gives another close reading of the poem. From the very beginning, the imagery of "A Little Girl Lost" "includes an implicit expectation of oppression" (102). The poem progressively symbolizes "the imposition of Experience on Innocence," yet even at the very beginning, "sweet love" is an escape "from winters cold" (102). The lovers' activity (arranging to meet secretly later) "fosters a retreat into darkness" (103). Thus, although Ona's father punishes her, "the context of the loves' search inflicts its own recrimination" (103). The characters' "partly-living" confiscates their souls. The engraving embodies the frustration of the poem, with its birds, tendrils and winter trunk, "the antithesis of the sheltering, richly foliaged tree of Innocence" (104). Harold Pagliaro recognizes another aspect of the poem's subtlety, the ambivalent presentation of Ona's father. Pagliaro reads him as an unconscious agent "of institutions and attitudes long since invented to protect life against dangers that life fears without understanding" (12). The poem is not exclusively about "authority's coercion of young love, as Blake's opening stanza seems to say it is," since Ona's father is concerned about her. He is also concerned about "the continuity of family" (41). Yet, by acting sexually independent, Ona has "threatened to violate the law of domestic security" (41). The lesson of the poem "is that parents and children alike are tyrannized by the domestic view of things" (42). Margaret Kathernin Montweiler (December 1995)
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