Essay, Pages 4 (988 words)
A Chimney Sweep is a person who cleans ash and soot from chimneys (Chimney Sweep, Wikipedia). Only small children were chimney sweepers because of the size of the chimney, it restricted adults. In return, these chimneys killed little kids due to being exposed to dust, suffocation, burns and health deterioration. Both chimney sweeper poems (Songs of innocence and Songs of experience) by William Blake prove that innocent trust is abused, further information about this statement will be provided. The contrast of these poems will also be discussed.
Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)
The speaker is a little boy between the ages of three to five. He was sold by his father to the master sweeper to get money. Their working environment was dirty and full of soot. It was also very dangerous as it sometimes led to the death of the children. In this poem, the speaker is telling his story of how he became a chimney sweeper and his friend’s (Tom Dacre) dream.
The speakers mother died when he was very young. His father sold him, this suggests that the boy is now a “slave” (Chimney Sweeper, 1789, line 2). This line also contains a poetic device called metonymy. The words “weep weep weep weep” suggest that the boy was very little (Chimney Sweeper, 1789, line 3).
The speaker then talks about Tom Dacre who is his friend. He was bought from an orphanage by poor people and they sold him to the master sweeper. He cried when his head was shaved, he had curly hair like lamb’s wool.
Tom’s hair is compared to a lamb because of the innocence a lamb possesses, the speaker is implying that Tom is innocent and pure but is being sacrificed just like how they sacrifice lambs. The speaker comforted/calmed him down and made him look at the good side of having his hair shaved, he does this by telling Tom that its better to not have hair than have the soot spoil/ruin his hair. Tom had white/blonde hair and soot was black, it would mess up and “corrupt” something white/innocent.
Tom then had a vision or dream that very night (Chimney Sweeper, 1789, line 9-10) about chimney sweepers Dick, Ned and Jack being dead and their bodies in black coffins (these “black coffins” can be compared to the soot they slept in). The reason the speaker used the names Dick, Ned and Jack is because majority of boys in that era had names similar to these, this goes to show that many boys were chimney sweepers.
An angel came by carrying a bright key to unlock the black coffins setting the chimney sweepers free, they were set free from the shackles of bondage, child labour and exploitation.
After being set free the chimney sweepers then went to cleanse themselves in the river removing the soot and dirt from their bodies, they dried themselves in sunlight. The boys remain naked because they left their bags behind, this actually gives them more freedom because they are running around freely without restriction from clothes. They decide to do the things that people their age do which is to play, they ride the clouds and play in the wind.
The angel instructs Tom that if he would be a good boy then God will be his father and he’d give him eternal happiness and never lack joy (Chimney Sweeper, 1789, lines 19-20).
Tom then woke up with the rest of the boys early in the morning while it’s still dark to get ready for work. Although it was a cold morning, Tom was feeling warm and happy because of the dream he had, he also believes that if you do your duty no harm will come to him.
Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Experience)
The speaker is no longer an innocent child who knows nothing, but an adult who has learnt about the hardship and harsh ways of the world. The speaker comes across a child chimney sweeper alone in the snow. He describes the child as a black thing among snow (Chimney Sweeper,1793, line 1) because of being covered in soot and because of the lack of value chimney sweepers have.
The child informs the speaker that he’s on his own and that his parents have gone to pray at church (Chimney Sweeper, 1793, line 4), they left him because they saw how much he enjoyed being in the snow (Chimney Sweeper, 1793, line 5). Just because the child has accepted the harshness of life doesn’t mean he’s happy with it, but because he still plays and sings everyone thinks that they have not done him wrong.
The parents of the boy don’t feel any guilt or sadness because they don’t see what they did as wrong, hence why they say, “the boy is enjoying the snow”. The boy states that his parents went to church to pray, he doesn’t mean thus in a good way because what kind of parent sells their child then goes to church? This may suggest that the church accepts child labour/exploitation. They also don’t feel evil because they have the approval of the church and the law allows them to sell their boy.
The boy realizes that he is being wronged and how unfair society is for taking his innocence away and subjecting him to labour to meet other people’s selfish demands. The speaker feels hatred towards the society where children have to lose their innocence to work for the wealthy. The child also has resentment for his parents because they stripped him of his innocence and childhood.
The church, the society and the system/law approve of this (selling of children and exploitation) so there was no way out for the child except for him to accept being a chimney sweeper. He is a child, so he was supposed to listen and obey his parents.
- Chimney Sweep. (no date). Wikipedia. [online]. Available at: [accessed 27 March 2019].