The Chimney Sweeper William Blake Analysis Essay

Summary

This poem parallels its namesake in Songs of Innocence. Where that poem posits a subtle satirical message against the type of religion that brings false comfort to abused children, this version strikes directly at the problem. Like Tom Dacre of the earlier poem, the chimney sweeper is crying. When asked where his parents are, he replies, “They are both gone up to church to pray.” The boy goes on to explain that his appearance of happiness has led his parents into believing that they have done no harm in finding him work as a chimney sweep, but the boy knows better. He says they taught him to “wear the clothes of death” and “to sing the notes of woe.” In fact, they taught him to do this "Because [he] was happy upon the heath,/And smil'd among the winter's snow." The boy's happiness was in fact an affront to his parents, and his ability to enjoy life despite the deathly cold and deprivation of winter, which may represent poverty, as it does in "Holy Thursday," is the very quality that condemns him to a life of further labor and danger. The boy finishes with the damning statement that his parents “are gone up to praise God & his Priest & King/Who make up a heaven of our misery.”

Analysis

When compared structurally to the companion piece from Songs of Innocence, it is obvious that this poem is half as long as its counterpart is. In addition, many lines are much shorter by one or two syllables. The voice of the young chimney sweeper is similar to that of Innocence, but he clearly has little time for the questions put to him (hence the shorter lines). This poem starts with the AABB rhyme scheme characteristic of innocence and childhood, but as it delves deeper into the experience of the Chimney Sweeper, it switches to CDCD EFEF for the last two stanzas. The final stanza, in fact, has only a near rhyme between "injury" (line 10) and "misery" (line 12), suggesting an increasing breakdown in the chimney sweeper's world, or the social order in general.

The entire system, God included, colludes to build its own vision of paradise upon the labors of children who are unlikely to live to see adulthood. Blake castigates the government (the “King”) and religious leaders (God’s “Priest”) in similar fashion to his two “Holy Thursday” poems, decrying the use of otherwise innocent children to prop up the moral consciences of adults both rich and poor. The use of the phrase "make up a Heaven" carries the double meaning of creating a Heaven and lying about the existence of Heaven, casting even more disparagement in the direction of the Priest and King.

William Blake writes ‘The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence)’ and ‘The Chimney Sweeper (Experience)’ to be viewed as one because they both explain how young children’s purity is being taken from them and they are being forced to practice life before adulthood. These poems dramatize the conflict between innocence and experience through the use of multiple poetic devices.

The poem ‘The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence)’ conveys the loss of innocence which gives an enhanced image of the speaker being a child with a life of difficulties. This is evident when the speaker says, ‘And my father sold me while yet my tongue could scarcely cry ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!'(2-3). The first stanza continues with ‘So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep’ (4),to express that the child is being forced into child labor. Also, the image of this line literally informs the reader that the child sleeps in soot, but also means that the grunge covers the boy ‘head to toe’ after cleaning the chimneys. In the second stanza the speaker shifts from expressing details about himself to another sweeper named Tom Dacre ‘who cried when his head, that curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved’ (5-6). Comparing Tom to a lamb not only confers the reader with an image of how curly Tom’s hair is but it also refers to the virtuousness of a child and a lamb. Now that Tom’s head is shaved, the reader is enlightened with the loss of his innocence.

Afterwards, Tom has a bizarre dream ‘That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack, were all of them locked up in coffins of black’ (11-12) Blake utilized some familiar names to emphasize that there are numerous children being forced to work leading them to their death. In his dream an angel appears and frees them. Before Tom awakes ‘the angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy, He’d have God for his father, and never want joy’ (19-20) gave Tom a new perspective. He now believes that he is important and will be taken care of no matter what, but the irony of the lesson Tom learned is that throughout these children’s life they will always have to experience life’s troubles not only physically but also mentally.

The children in ‘The Chimney Sweeper (Experience)’now have a full comprehension of life. The speaker changes to someone who witnesses ‘a little black thing among the snow, crying ”weep! ‘weep!’ in notes of woe!'(1-2). Here the speaker’s heart is touched and he refuses to leave the child so he initiates a conversation with the child about why his parents were not there. The child replies ‘they are both gone up to the church to pray’ (4), which makes the reader believe that though the child has experienced so much in his lifetime he now understands that nothing is permanent. In the second stanza the child enlightens the speaker about how he was happy until his parents forced him into child labor which caused a different type of pain. Also, the child tells the speaker that ‘they clothed me in the clothes of death, and taught me to sing the notes of woe’ (7-8) which informs the reader that not only his parents are the cause of his pain but they will also be the reason for his death. In the final stanza the child’s anger cultivates and the blame is focused towards his parents and others. The stanza begins by providing an image of a child’s unhappiness of being forced to work which causes pain and an adult’s cluelessness of the pain that is being put upon the child. This is evident when the child says ‘because I am happy and dance and sing, they think they have done me no injury’ (9-10). The poem concludes by the child informing the speaker that the adults in society have ‘gone to praise God and his priest and king, who make up a heaven of our misery’ (11-12). Here the child is expressing that the adults in society are the true reason why the children are being forced to experience life’s troubles and pain.

Within these poems Blake expresses two dissimilar attitudes that enable the reader to view one main idea about child labor via two different scenarios. His first position towards child labor demonstrates sympathy towards children who are being forced into adulthood. In the second poem his tone becomes judgmental towards a non caring society. He is annoyed with everyone that is in favor of child labor because he feels it ruins the childhood experience. A child needs to be a child while they can, not a childhood slave.
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