William Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper”

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William Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" The English poet, painter, illustrator and engraver, William Blake, was born in London on November 28, 1757. At age ten, he went to drawing school; his father recognized his artistic talent and decided that it should be developed. Four years later, he was an apprentice with engraver James Basire for seven years. After his apprenticeship, Blake briefly attended Royal Academy, where he found his learning environment to be rather stifling and too orthodox.

Known for Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1793), his first book of poetry was entitled Poetical Sketches (1789). Before his first works were introduced to the public, he married Catherine Boucher, who later helped him publish his other books. When William Blake died on August 12, 1827 in London, he had not completed his series of drawings inspired by Dante's The Divine Comedy, and so, the world did not get a chance to see his genius.

"The Chimney Sweeper," one of Blake's poems, is comprised of six quatrains. This work brings to light child labor and its effects on the youth. Found in Songs of Innocence, it is sad and despondent at first. Near the end of the poem though, hope is restored to the speaker. One of the poem's themes is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Thus, there is freedom, happiness and peace of mind; God or a supreme, omniscient Being will make sure of that. The boys in "The Chimney Sweeper" must continue to do their work and do it well, for they shall be rewarded.

In Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers, the book that Dr. Marilyn Button is currently using for English Composition II, there are some categories listed on pages thirty-two and thirty-three. They were written to help individuals analyze literary works. William Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" falls into some of those genres. They are: Memory "“ This category applies to the poem when the speaker remembers the death of his mother, the fact that his father sold him, the dream his friend had and the life lesson he learned.

Desire "“ This feeling is apparent in Blake's work in Tom Dacre's dream. The desire the young boys have is to be free of their misery and therefore, the life of chimney sweeping. In a sense, they want to be innocent and pure again.

Politics and Ideology "“ Under this genre, chimney sweeping can be considered oppressive. The children that perform this job are also excluded. They live a life of "darkness" and hardly ever see the sun. Additionally, those kids have no time, whatsoever, to enjoy their childhood.

Social Class "“ Since children are sweeping chimneys, it can be deduced that their families are poor or what one would call low class. It does not seem likely that the boys' parents would introduce their young ones to such hard labor at very tender ages.

Carnival and Festivities "“ The only example of this in "The Chimney Sweeper" is Tom Dacre's dream. In it , after the Angel sets the sweepers free, the youngsters run down a green plain, leaping and laughing, to wash in a river and glimmer in the sun.

Innocence Versus Experience "“ This issue arises since the children are initially young, fresh, naïve and immature. At the end of the poem, after they are introduced to the world of work and see and understand the hardships of life, their souls become older, more mature and wiser. The kids' minds are warped for a long time, and after such an experience , they are changed forevermore.

Several questions came to my mind as "The Chimney Sweeper" was read. Just exactly who was the chimney sweeper, and what was the significance of Tom Dacre's dream? Why did Tom see "thousands of sweepers locked up in coffins of black" and who was the Angel in Blake's work? The poem was so thought-provoking that it makes a female reader wonder what it would have been like to be a young girl in the late eighteenth century. Lastly, how were the words black and white used in "The Chimney Sweeper?" The question that will be answered is the latter in the previous paragraph. Black and white. . . Those are words with several connotations. Black emphasizes the darkness in which the boys live. The term "soot, which is a black particle in smoke, immediately appears in the first stanza. It also implies death, suffering and separation (from loved ones) with the image of the coffin (line twelve). The word the even possibly represents the children's belief that they are too dirty to enter heaven.

White, in the second stanza, means good. That is because it describes Tom's hair. However, it is symbolic of innocence, rebirth and purity (lines sixteen to eighteen). In addition to that, the word white is associated with cleanliness and light. Notice how the boys leave their bags behind after being naked and white, to be lifted up into the light.

It is my hope that the use of the words "black" and "white" in "The Chimney Sweeper" were only written to express the drudgery of the boys' job. If the meanings behind those words were applied to something else, say race, then, they would not only be negative but prehistoric and stereotypical. Blake was very intelligent. It could have been that he aimed to create a controversial work. However, since he is long gone, the world will never know.

Works Cited "Blake, William," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2001.

http://encarta.msn.com. © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation.

"Blake, William," The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.

http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0863644.html. ©1994, 2001 Columbia University Press.

Songs of Innocence and Experience SparkNote.

http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/blake/context.html. 1999-2001.