Term Paper: William Blake's the Chimney Sweeper

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Blake's The Chimney Sweeper

William Blake's poem "The Chimney Sweeper" -- a hopeful nursery rhyme style used to ironically highlight a child's reality of horror

Although our society is no longer dependant upon children to sweep our chimneys, and sacrifice their health and youth to this miserable task, William Blake's poem "The Chimney Sweeper" still has power over the attention of the viewer. This is because it makes imaginative use of the familiar tone of nursery rhyme, and deploys children's vocabulary and sing-song rhyme and diction to convey the horrible, limited circumstances of the speaker's life. The innocence, purity, hopes, and light of childhood and heaven are contrasted with the darkness of the soot and the physical, manual labor of chimney sweeping. Death will come soon to children like the speaker, the poem suggests, and perhaps the child is even aware of this fact. The only hope young sweepers have in life is to ascend to heaven.

The speaker of the poem "The Chimney Sweeper" from "Songs of Innocence" is a boy, sold like a slave by his father to be an apprentice chimney-sweep after his mother died when he was so young he could hardly say: "weep!'weep! 'weep! 'weep!" In other words the little boy could hardly speak the name of the occupation he was supposed to fill. Also the use of the term weeping signifies weeping for his mother. He could hardly apprehend the loss of one of his parents, the cruelty of his other parent in apprenticing him as a sweep, and also the misery of the life before him.

The lisping "weep" sets the childlike tone of the poem. The boy cannot say the letter's as if he has a baby-like lisp. However, in the first, lisping stanza there is a clear, subtle accusation at the reader on the part of the poet, as the boy speaks of "your chimneys." Blake is assuming a persona of an innocent child to remind the reader about the labor that insures the reader's comfort and warmth on cold winter nights.

The golden nature of childhood, and the beauty of a young boy's hair is shown as the child speaker, now fully experienced and used to the pain of his labor, says a newly indentured chimney-sweep at least "the soot cannot spoil your white hair." The only real comfort the boys have is a dream of an "angel who had a bright key" that lets them free and sets them forth in a "green plain leaping, laughing" where "they run" and they wash the soot off in a river, and "shine in the sun." But this washing occurs only after they die, in heaven, as they are baptized in joy. An early death allows the chimney-sweeps to enjoy the Christian education, redemption, love, and childlike joy that their society denies them in life. The comfort the boy takes in this (this is a Blake "Song of Innocence") is meant to be ironic and heart-rending, as he does not really know the full value of the childhood he has lost on earth.

Throughout the poem in the voice of the child, Blake's voice acts as an ironic and judging presence of the reader. Take, for example, Blake's word choice of a "coffin" to describe the chimneys. The poet knows… [END OF PREVIEW]

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