The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence) by William Blake

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 set 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.

Summary and Analysis

The chimney Sweeper’ by William Blake presents a disenchanting picture of the evils of the world. The French Revolution and the evil effects of Britain’s industrialisation had opened Blake’s eyes to the tyranny and exploitation that stalked the world. The growing poverty of labourers and the inhuman treatment meted out to them were enough to move Blake’s tender heart. The poverty compelled many a father sell his children to master sweepers who employed these children on poor payment. In those days it was not an uncommon sight to see the children sweeping the soot of chimney seven when fire was burning below in the fire place. It were the inhuman atrocities of the type that led Blake to write this poem.

The speaker in the poem is a young chimney sweeper. The speaker narrates his tragic tale that he lost his mother, and his father sold him to a master sweeper when he was too young to cry “weep, weep, weep”. The speaker then tells us how one of his fellow sweepers, Tom Dacre cried when his curly hair were shaved.

The speaker consoles Tom that as his hair is cut, his white hair will not be soot stained. That very night when Tom sleeps he has a sweet dream. He finds thousands of his fellow sweeps locked up in black coffins. Then there comes an angel with bright keys who opens the coffin sand sets them all free. The unbridled children float happily in the air and sport there.The angel tells them that if they behave properly, they will get fatherly treatment from the Almighty. The next day, though it is cold outside, Tom feels the warmth imparted by the dream and he goes peacefully to brush the chimneys. The poem ends on a didactic note with an emphasis on the dictum “Do your duty, if you want to achieve real joy.”

The labourers of the factories, in general, had to suffer from the unhealthy atmosphere.The condition of the chimney sweepers was worse; they being the little boys could not stand the choking chimneys. The inhuman treatment, meted out to them was worse. They had to wake up during the whole night and go on sweeping until noon.At home they slept on poor beds and were fed poorly.

The poem is a replica or the realistic picture of the industrialised England. The coffin of soot in which Tom saw his fellow workers locked up is nothing but the coating of soot that stuck on their body when they came out after sweeping the chimney. The poet uses the phrase “The coffin of soot” which is suggestive of extreme peril that lurked in the work the little boys did. The another important phrase “Then naked and white” as the children went up naked into the chimney because to put on clothes was to invite more danger from fire. The soot sticks on their naked body and so their whole body should be purged of it. That is why, the chimney sweepers are said to be having a complete wash in the river and rising to the cloud. The poem ends with a moral uttering “So if all do their duty they need not fear harm”.

In form as in thought Blake was in complete revolt against the conventions of the 18thcentury. He does not follow the set patterns of Neo-classical poetry. The poet uses a special blank verse of his own which is hardly distinguishable from rhythmical prose.Accordingly, the phraseology and words used relate to common man’s language. The poem is also remarkable for its brevity of style.

To conclude, the poem is an expression of the bitter observation communicated in a style bereft of artificial decorum of neoclassicism of the 18th century

Lyricism

The poem ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ is a beautiful lyric and is characterised by the usual qualities of lyricism:

  1. Lyricism refers to sweet melody and musical qualities.
  2. Spontaneity is one of the most striking features of lyricism.
  3. Intensity of feeling/s and deep passions make lyric more appealing

Symbolism

Symbolism refers to a word or set of words that signifies an object or event which itself signifies something else; that is the words refer to something which suggests a range of reference beyond itself. Take as an example the phrase “The Chimney Sweeper” which in its literal meaning is a person who sweeps the chimney. In the poem, however, it also stands for exploitation and the most painful aftereffects of Britain’s industrialisation.

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