Songs of Experience, Song 45, (E 26)
The Little Vagabond
"Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold,
But the Ale-house is healthy & pleasant & warm;
Besides I can tell where I am use'd well,
Such usage in heaven will never do well.
But if at the Church they would give us some Ale.
And a pleasant fire, our souls to regale;
We'd sing and we'd pray, all the live-long day;
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray,
Then the Parson might preach & drink & sing.
And we'd be as happy as birds in the spring:
And modest dame Lurch, who is always at Church,
Would not have bandy children nor fasting nor birch.
And God like a father rejoicing to see,
His children as pleasant and happy as he:
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel
But kiss him & give him both drink and apparel."
The gentle father welcomes the penitent son in the picture for The Little Vagabond but the poem is not about Luke's story (verses 11-32) of the prodigal being welcomed home by a forgiving father. It is about the need for forgiveness, and becoming aware of the need to be forgiven on the part of the church. If a penitent is to be received into the arms of the father, it is the church.
"Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold," addresses the poem to the mother church herself, the church of the world. Blake was not known to be a church attender; his membership was in the Church Eternal, the Body of Christ which is the Church Universal.
He found fault with a worldly church which was cold, judgmental, exclusive and cruel. The name of the poem which is not overtly about a vagabond, calls our attention to the outsider, the lost and needy whom the church in Blake's day (as in our own day) neglected and rejected.
The Gentle Father's desire is to take into his arms not only the vagabonds and outcasts, but a church who is becoming a true expression of Christ's Body.