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Lost Ant

dreamed late 1780s by William Blake

  1. Lost Ant is my title; Blake's was just A Dream, an unsearchable title on a website with thousands of dreams...
  2. Emmet is an archaic word for ant.
  3. Benighted is today used mostly for its connotation: ignorant. But Blake intends the literal meaning too: caught out at nightfall.

ONCE a dream did weave a shade
O'er my Angel-guarded bed,
That an Emmet lost its way
Where on grass methought I lay.

Troubled, 'wilder'd, and forlorn,
Dark, benighted, travel-worn,
Over many a tangled spray,
All heart-broke I heard her say:

"O, my children! do they cry?
Do they hear their father sigh?
Now they look abroad to see:
Now return and weep for me."

Pitying, I drop'd a tear;
But I saw a glow-worm near,
Who replied: "What wailing wight
Calls the watchman of the night?

"I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round:
Follow now the beetle's hum;
Little wanderer, hie thee home."


This poem is from Blake's Songs of Innocence (1789). Blake is often strange, but always direct; if he says it's a dream, I believe him.

So what's it mean? Well, Blake's not sentimental. He knows bugs eat bugs. These aren't bugs. His dream catches the core idea in Songs of Innocence: that innocents (unaware of evil) aren't as good as fully enlightened people (aware of evil but serenely building the good anyway)... but innocence is still good. Innocent mistakes can lead to grief, but innocents rarely prey on the hapless. Unlike our real bug-eat-bug world, these bugs do their jobs, help their community; it doesn't occur to them to prey on the lost one.

Am I claiming that Blake thinks most ordinary people are like his dream-bugs? Absolutely! He's one source of the modern anarchist ideas of mutual aid and cooperation as the norm; that communities self-assemble naturally, without force; that, at heart, people like to help.

LISTS AND LINKS: insects - sadness and tears - empathy - rescues - community - anarchy - Blake - a weirdly parallel dream-fable 200 years later: How to be Happy - nocturnes - dream poems

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