“The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake
William Blake’s poem consists of two parts that include Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Blake uses the two songs to highlight how some people in the society may take advantage of other people’s difficult situations, naivety, and innocence for their own gain. As he concludes the poem, Blake helps us understand that after the chimney sweeper had gone through tough moments, he learned something about the society and what drove them in what they did.
Part one: Songs of Innocence
The poem starts with the speaker informing us that his mother died when he was a very young boy. The narrator further tells more about his childhood. His father sold him before he could speak appropriately. At the time the speaker was enslaved, people who were cleaning chimneys were young boys since they could easily crawl inside them due to their small bodies.
In the second verse, the speaker shifts gears. He stops talking about himself and instead tells more about Tom Dacre. The poor young boy cried when his head was shaved. Tom had curly hair that resembled the wool of a lamb indicating the boy’s tenderness, innocence, and young age. Tom’s head was shaved for the purpose of either preventing soot from sticking within the hair strands or because the masters were just mean. The speaker then tells us what he told Tom after his head was shaved. He encourages him to be silent and stop worrying about too much.
In this stanza, we get more on Tom after the speaker managed to calm him down. He slept with a relief. It is in this night that he had a strange vision or sight. As readers, we gain a lot of poetic pirouetting. During the vision, we are introduced to a few of Tom and the speaker’s fellow chimney sweepers. They included: Dick, Joe, Jack, and Ned. They were all bolted inside black coffins. The names of Tom’s friends are really standard, stock and generic. The black color alludes to the soot from chimneys, and the common names are perhaps meant to refer the many poor’s boys who are enslaved as cleaners. It is just like every boy is forced to work against their will.
During the dream, an angel came by, opened the coffins with a bright key, and then freed all the boys that were locked up. The bad image in Tom’s dream does not last, and the appearance of the angel creates a biblical allusion. For Tom and fellow sweepers, the dream is an indication that death will not be the ultimate answer to their suffering. After the boys were set free in Tom’s vision, they ran down the river and cleaned themselves and then went on to play.
At this stage, Tom’s vision is becoming plainly absurd. The chimney sweepers are now without clothing and are floating high in the sky. They left their bags that contain their working tools implying that they won’t need them in their new place. The kids are free at this moment just like the way every kid is supposed to be.
Towards the end of Tom’s dream, the angel reveals to him that had he been a good boy, he would have God as his father and he would never be deprived of joy. He mysteriously gets singled out from the group of many Jacks, Ned’s and Dicks
Here, Tom wakes up from his fantasy dream only to find himself with his bag and cleaning brushes. The speaker brings our attention to the end of Tom’s wonderful and chimney free sight. When they wake up, the morning was cold, but all the same, Tom was happy. He understood that he ought to do his duty and fear no harm. The song that began at a very dispirited note ends with one of the most frustrated boys seeing things in bright light.
Part two: Songs of Experience
Blake explores the flawed perception in a twisted and corrupt society. He introduces us to a new speaker who seems to be adult or someone much older than the chimney sweeper as it can be inferred from the first line: “A little black thing among the snow.” The new persona finds the young boy lying in the snow. From the question: ‘Where are thy father and mother’? It is obvious that the boy gets no solution or help from it. From line four: “They are both gone up to the church to pray,” it is evident that the child’s parents had died or they had literally gone to church.
The speaker informs us that since he was happy while lying in the in the cold snow, everyone just assumed he was fine. The boy was given clothes and then trained to sing Christian hymns.
Since the speaker seems to be dancing and singing in happiness, his enslavers think that their uncouth actions had no impact on the boy. The speaker concludes the poem” by letting us know what he thinks about God. He feels that God is the source and perpetrator of sufferings. As the poem ends, we find that religion has brainwashed the people in the society to the extent that no one has the time or will to consider the plight of the chimney sweepers.