The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)

The Author's Background

William Blake, born in 1757, was a 19th century poet, painter, and print maker. At the young age of 4, Blake started having visions. His first vision was seeing God appear in a window. He then saw prophet Ezekiel under a tree and had a vision of "a tree filled with angels." The religious characteristics of his visions can be seen as influence in many of Blake's pieces, especially in The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence).

Interpretation of the Poem

In the poem, The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence), Blake tells a story about two chimney sweepers. In the first stanza, the poem provides details about the speaker's life. The speakers tells us that "when my mother died, I was very young" and "my father sold me while yet my tongue could scarcely cry 'weep!', 'weep!', 'weep!'" Then the speakers claims to sweep someone's chimneys. These details force us to conclude that his father sold him to be a chimney sweeper. In the second stanza, the poem introduces Tom Dacre, another chimney sweeper boy. Tom cries when his head is shaved bare and the speaker tells him, "Hush Tom! never mind it, for when your head is bare, you know the soot cannot spoil your white hair." These lines show the speaker's naive optimism. In the third stanza, the speakers shares his dream that "thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack were all of them locked up in coffins of black." The speaker's dream that chimney sweepers sleep in black coffins is morbid and shows the sadness of the boys' lives. Stanza four takes a shift in mood when the dream changes to now see "an angel with a bright key who opens the coffins and set them all free." After the sweepers are supposedly set free, the dream continues and the sweepers play. The dream gets weirder in stanza five when the boys are suddenly "naked and white, all their bags left behind, they rise upon clouds and sport in the wind." After this an angel reaches out to Tom to tell him that "If he'd be a good boy, he'd have God for a father, and never lack joy." The final stanza of the poem, Tom awakens from his dream and is "happy and warm" about going back to work because he is comforted by the thought that "if all do their duty they need not fear harm." The poem is a story of naive optimism and spiritual influence.

The persona, of the speaker, adds to the meaning of the poem and the imagery accompanies this meaning. The persona gives the poem a hopeful undertone, while the imagery helps convey this. The white hair, angels, and optimistic dreams are evidence of the hopeful tone the speaker presents.

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