'Chimney -Sweeper, The' by William Blake

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When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry "Weep! weep! weep! weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved; so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for, when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet, and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight! --
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel, who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins, and let them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind;
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke, and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm:
So, if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Chimney Sweeper, The by William Blake: A Critical Analysis

"I walk through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe."

These lines from William Blake's "London" capture the bleak and oppressive atmosphere of a city that is the backdrop for the experiences of the chimney sweepers, whom Blake portrays as innocent victims of a society that exploits and oppresses them. In "Chimney Sweeper, The," Blake uses a child narrator to give voice to the suffering and injustice experienced by these young workers. The poem is a powerful critique of the social and economic conditions of industrialized England, and it continues to resonate with readers today.

The Context

William Blake was born in London in 1757, and he spent his entire life in the city. His poems and artworks were deeply influenced by the social and economic conditions he witnessed around him, particularly the exploitation of the working classes. Blake himself had brief experience as an engraver and was familiar with the harsh realities of industrial labor. "Chimney Sweeper, The" was written during a time when England was experiencing rapid industrialization and urbanization, and the lives of many people, particularly children, were being adversely affected by these changes.

The Poem

The poem is divided into two parts, each containing four stanzas. In the first part, the child narrator describes his experience as a chimney sweeper. He tells us that he was sold by his father when he was very young, and that he and other children like him are forced to work long hours cleaning chimneys. The soot from the chimneys has blackened their skin, and they are covered in bruises and scars. The narrator tells us that he cries when he thinks of his parents, but he is comforted by the thought that they are also in Heaven.

In the second part of the poem, the child narrator speaks directly to his fellow chimney sweepers, urging them to have faith and hope for a better life. He tells them that if they are good, they will be rewarded in Heaven, where they will "never want joy." The poem ends with the narrator reassuring himself that his sufferings will be rewarded in the afterlife, and that he will be reunited with his parents.

The Themes

One of the central themes of the poem is the exploitation of children. Blake paints a vivid picture of the chimney sweepers as innocent victims of a society that values profit over human life. The children are sold into labor by their own families, and they are forced to work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. The soot they inhale can cause lung disease, and many children died from accidents or illness. The poem is a powerful critique of a society that allows such exploitation to occur.

Another important theme is the loss of innocence. The child narrator is forced to grow up too fast and is robbed of his childhood. He is aware of his own exploitation and the injustice of his situation, and he is haunted by the memory of his parents. The poem is a poignant reminder of the toll that poverty and exploitation can take on the lives of children.

A third theme is the religious imagery that runs throughout the poem. The child narrator's faith in Heaven is a source of comfort and hope for him, but it is also a reminder of the power structures that uphold the society that exploits him. In Blake's view, religion is used as a tool to reinforce the status quo, rather than as a means of promoting justice and equality.

The Interpretation

"Chimney Sweeper, The" is a powerful and evocative poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of exploitation, loss of innocence, and religious hypocrisy are still relevant in a world that is still grappling with issues of inequality and injustice. The poem is a reminder of the power of literature to give voice to the voiceless and to challenge the status quo.

The child narrator is a particularly effective device for conveying the message of the poem. His innocence and vulnerability make the injustice of his situation all the more poignant. His faith in Heaven serves as a powerful critique of a society that uses religion to justify its exploitation of the poor and vulnerable.

The imagery in the poem is also striking. The soot that covers the chimney sweepers is a powerful symbol of the pollution and filth that characterize the industrialized city. The image of the child being washed in a river is a reminder of the cleansing power of nature, which is contrasted with the pollution and degradation of the city.

Overall, "Chimney Sweeper, The" is a powerful indictment of a society that values profit over human life. Its themes and imagery continue to resonate with readers today, and its message remains as relevant as ever. It is a reminder that literature can be a powerful tool for social critique and a call to action for those who seek to build a more just and equal world.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Chimney Sweeper, written by William Blake, is a classic poem that has been studied and analyzed by literary enthusiasts for centuries. This poem is a part of the Songs of Innocence and Experience collection, which explores the themes of childhood, innocence, and the harsh realities of life. In this article, we will delve into the meaning and significance of The Chimney Sweeper, and how it reflects the social and political issues of Blake's time.

The poem begins with the speaker, a young chimney sweeper, introducing himself and his fellow sweepers. He describes how they are all "locked up in coffins of black," referring to the cramped and dark chimneys they have to clean. The imagery of coffins is significant, as it suggests that the sweepers are trapped and confined in their work, with no hope of escape.

The speaker then goes on to describe his own situation, stating that he was sold by his father when he was very young, and that he has been working as a chimney sweeper ever since. He talks about how he cries when his fellow sweepers shave his head, as it reminds him of his lost childhood. This is a poignant moment in the poem, as it highlights the loss of innocence that these children have experienced.

The theme of innocence is further explored in the second stanza, where the speaker talks about a dream he had. In this dream, an angel comes to rescue him and his fellow sweepers, and takes them to a beautiful place where they can play and be happy. This dream is significant, as it represents the hope and longing for a better life that these children have. It also highlights the contrast between the harsh reality of their lives and the idealized world of childhood innocence.

The third stanza introduces a new character, Tom Dacre, who is also a chimney sweeper. Tom is described as having a head full of curly hair, which is shaved off by the master sweep. Tom is upset by this, and the speaker comforts him by telling him that his hair will grow back. This moment is significant, as it shows the bond that exists between the sweepers, and the compassion they have for each other.

The fourth stanza is where the poem takes a political turn, as the speaker talks about the church and the state. He says that the church tells the sweepers that if they are good and obedient, they will go to heaven. However, he also says that the state allows the sweepers to be sold into slavery, and that they are not treated as human beings. This is a powerful statement, as it highlights the hypocrisy of the church and the government, who claim to care about the welfare of their citizens, but allow such atrocities to occur.

The final stanza of the poem is a call to action, as the speaker urges his fellow sweepers to rise up and fight for their rights. He says that if they do not speak out, they will continue to be oppressed and exploited. This is a powerful message, as it shows that even in the face of adversity, there is hope for change.

In conclusion, The Chimney Sweeper is a powerful poem that explores the themes of childhood innocence, oppression, and social injustice. It highlights the harsh realities of life for the chimney sweepers of Blake's time, and the hypocrisy of the church and the government. However, it also offers a message of hope and resilience, as the speaker urges his fellow sweepers to fight for their rights. This poem is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today, and serves as a reminder of the importance of speaking out against injustice.

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