Tuesday, 18 January 2011



Father, Father where are you going?
O do not walk so fast.
Speak father speak to your little boy
Or else I shall be lost.

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

The mosaic is one of many decorating the walls of a railway arch just round the corner from where William Blake lived between 1790 and 1800.  You hear the sound of Waterloo trains rumbling overhead.  In 1784 Blake had set up a print shop in London where he engraved and published Songs of Innocence (from which this poem is taken) in 1789. Songs of Experience followed in 1794. Blake always wrote out poems by hand on an engraving plate, rather than using type, then engraved illustrations and hand-coloured them. The mosaics are a contemporary attempt at illustration.

Southbank Mosaics was originally managed and run by volunteers and is located in the crypt of St Johns Church Waterloo. It still has a regular group of volunteers who  offer their time and talent, learn new skills, find support for their return to work, and meet new friends. Their website says ‘Each person has an unique contribution to make and you will see your work installed on the streets of London. The process of installing work is complicated, so you will also learn negotiation, diplomacy and patience, along with technical expertise’. The aim is to '(transform) the public realm with colour, rhythm and artistic form’. 

And what of the poem? Eight short lines, with only five words longer than a single syllable.  Call it sickly High Romanticism if you like but it's clear and simple and addressing our deepest fears of being lost and helpless. I visited the mosaic on the morning after BBC2 Panorama showed Where's Dad? (an alternative title for the poem?) about the growing number of fathers who play little or no part in their children's lives. I never knew my father so have to declare an interest. 

But is it the boy’s father who’s absent - or Our Father in Heaven? Blake, a deeply spiritual man, had little time for organised religion.  And the last line is intriguing. If you want to know what happens next, Blake continues the story in Little Boy Found. On the right is the better known The Tyger, but Blake's most famous poem ,Jerusalem, is not yet illustrated in the railway arches of Centaur Street.


Try www.poetryfoundation.org › Poems & Poets
for some of Blake's poetry

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