Even though, a hundred and seventy nine years later, lying in his grave, William Blake is still one of the best influences in poetry and even daily life today. Blake’s work, unrecognised during his lifetime, but now is almost universally considered that of a genius. Northrop Frye, who undertook a study of Blake’s entire opus, ‘What is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English Language.
’ Blake was born into a middle class family in 1757. The bible, being one of the most worshipped yet most feared artefacts in Blake’s time, was his biggest influence in his work, and was to be his biggest influence until the day he died.
As Blake matured into a budding poet, artist and engraver, his parents were with him every step of the way. In 1782, Blake married Catherine Boucher, a girl he respected, loved, needed and most importantly, shared a passion in his work.
Blake abhorred slavery with a passion, he also believed strongly in racial and sexual equality, but in Blake’s era, both racial and sexual equality was as good as impossible. ‘ As all men are alike tho’ infinitely various.’ [William Blake.] Blake believed that innocence and experience were the two contrary states of the human soul, and that true innocence was impossible without experience.
The disastrous end to the French revolution caused Blake to lose faith in the goodness of mankind. As religious as Blake was, he believed there was some kind of bad side to religion; he believed that children lost their innocence through exploitation from a religious community that put dogma before mercy. In this essay I will explain why Blake believed that religion caused a corruption in the innocence of children and also I will compare both innocence and experience Chimney Sweeper poems and see how different they are to each other, and how similar they are in a different sense.
‘Songs of innocence’ contains poems written from the perspective of children or written about them, children being a key meaning of innocence.
In ‘The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence’ the whole thing is basically a summary of Blake’s hates, Child Slavery, Death and the Dark Side of Religion. It also includes a lot of description of black imagery, black representing the soot. In stanza one, it tells us the story of when the child (who is telling us the poem) is brought into life, and sold off when he could barely cry, and brought up into a life full of poverty, and poor living. Blake ends the first stanza with a very harrowing way, ‘so your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep.’ This line is supposed to make readers feel tense, as if to think, these children must have had a hard life.
In the second stanza, Blake describes a young boy in the name of Tom Dacre, about how he cried when he got his head shaved, his hair ‘curled like a lambs back.’ The fourth line, ‘” Hush, Tom! Never mind it, for when your head’s bare, you know that soot can no longer spoil your white hair.”‘ This gives out a sense of a childish like security, full of pure innocence, yet strong in emotion as the young narrator comforts little Tom. Toms white hair, that curled like a lambs back has some sort of message in it, lamb and white mean pure and innocent, maybe this is showing the innocence in these little children.
In The third stanza, Tom goes to sleep and has a frightful dream that all of the chimney sweepers were lying in locked black coffins. This is telling us that Tom is scared; he feels locked up, he cannot show his inner self, and he wants out. The fact that his friends were in these coffins shows his fears, that he fears losing the only people he can love in his life. The coffins of Black could represent the fact that the whole poem, is about chimney sweepers, and the colour black is related to them. Black is also a colour of fear, death and evil, this represents the life in the times of chimney sweepers.
In the fourth stanza, His dream takes a turn, and an angel opens all the locked black coffins with a golden key, and all the chimney sweepers are set free. They are able to cleanse themselves in the river and play in the bright sun. Dreams represent something; they represent messages and meanings, and even can become reality at some point later in life or even soon after the dream has occurred.
This dream that this child had, is a message of power, but also comfort at the turning point, it is saying that it is all going to be okay, the bright key is telling us that tom wont be locked in this embrace for his life, and the brightness encourages warm and strength for him to keep going, ‘then down a green plain leaping, laughing as they run and wash in a river, and shine in the sun.’ this is showing that there will be good times in his reality. They are able to forget for a moment about their lives that are doomed with work and poverty.
In the fifth stanza, it says still dreaming and playing among the clouds Tom is told by the angel that if he is good, God will always take care of him. Tom then awakes from the dream, and though his situation has not changed, tom does as he’s told to, and in his heart understands that everything happens for a reason. The nakedness of the children could represent vulnerability.
In this poem, these children’s main source of TLC is God, god is their parents, their teacher and their love, after a dream Tom is confronted by the fact that God is his father and he no longer feels alone. Even though tom has been plunged into this chimney sweeping job he doesn’t want to do, he knows he has no choice, just to grin and bare it, and now he can do what the narrator did to him, comfort others in hard times and not neglect them in moments of tribulation, and he can say he actually understands how they feel.
‘The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Experience.’ This poem clearly denounces the church, ”where are thy father and mother, say? They have both gone up to the church to pray.’ This child’s parents have left this venerable little thing in the cold, crying, full of soot, wanting love.
In stanza two, it describes this child as being happy, why happy? Because it feels free. ‘They clothed me in the clothes of death’ these clothes of death is the clothing of a chimney sweeper, that is the impact on this child, that’s what Blake is telling us, that being a chimney sweeper at such a young age, can kill. ‘And taught me to sing the notes of woe’ this could emphasize the lords prayer, or some form of holy/religious prayer or hymn. The fact that this innocence is pursued by this experience, because of all this religion, compared to ‘The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence’ this religion is black, its incontinent, as if its worshipping the devil instead of god.
In the last stanza, it pieces the whole poem together, the narrator is saying that ‘because I am happy and dance and sing, they think they have done me no injury’ he is telling us that he dances and sings to keep himself occupied from thinking of bad things, like the fact that this job he is in is so bad and he has no freedom at all, only the freedom to dance and sing, but it gives people the wrong impression, as if he is happy in this job.
‘And are gone to praise God and his priest and king, who make up a heaven of our misery’ this last catching sentence is implying that they have gone to church, free of these children they gave birth to, and are rejoicing in their names, the king who is supposed to look after his society, is doing nothing, the children’s parents, who should be there for their children, are praying to god, thinking their children are fine in their jobs, and what this poem is implying, unlike ‘The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence’ that god is enjoying their pain and misery. Even the churches don’t care about these children. Blake scorns not only these children’s parents, but god also, god is the guardian of children, and he’s supposed to look after them but actually, they collaborate with these wrong doings and slavery of children.
I think both poems are completely different from one another in some ways, like the fact that the moral of these poems are the same, to give us a message that these children are in suffering. But they are completely different in the fact that ‘The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence’ is conveying God in a good light, it shows religion is a good thing, and it shows innocence in all these children, and this innocent childish like feeling is there when you read it, whereas, ‘The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Experience’ conveys God and Religion, even the King and Parents, in an evil way, it makes us feel ashamed that someone as human as us can do that to a child, and it gives you a sense of experience, like a lamb, as innocent as that is, compared to a gun, how experienced is that? Also the illustration with the poem gives off this sense of evil, with all the black, and the expression of the chimney sweeper is sad, tied down, locked up inside.
Cite this essay
Compare and Contrast ‘The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence and Experience’. (2017, Oct 19). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/compare-and-contrast-the-chimney-sweeper-from-songs-of-innocence-and-experience-essay