“The Chimney Sweeper”: Songs of Innocence is a poem by William Blake published in 1789 to show the negative condition of child labor that existed between 18th and 19th Centrury in England. According to the writer, the parents sold the boys to clean chimneys because of their small body sizes; theycould easily enter into them to do the cleaning. It is apparent that the child labor was an accepted norm at the time, regardless of the suffering of the young boys. The narrators talks of a dream by one of the boys. He dreams of an angel who comes to rescue all the boys from the coffin, before taking them to a sunny area. It is obvious that the work and suffering the boys undergo is a sign of their innocence that has been taken away from them. However, Songs of Innocence is a poem with lots of symbolism, tone, rhyme, and line breaks. This paper makes an analysis of some of the poetic elements used by William Blake to pass the message to the audience.
The title, ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ indicates that the reader is about to meet someone who sweeps chimneys. True to the topic, the audience meets very many chimneysweepers who toil every day to accomplish their assignments. Most of them are nameless; however, the poem goes ahead to show their tools of work like bags and brushes. The title and the some of the stuff the boys use are a symbol of the burden they have to put up with, despite their age. The poem openly shows some of the problems the chimneysweepers have to undergo on a daily basis. For instance, the speaker says in Line 4 that, ‘he sweeps chimneys and sleeps in soot.’ This statement may mean that they literally sleep with dirt that comes from soot or it may show the daily experiences with soot. Other challenges that the boys undergo include shaving of hair and washing in the river.
The boys turn black in color because of the sooty nature of the chimneys. However, black is a symbol used to show very bad things in place. Innocence of the boys has been taken away from them, exposing them to serious dangers in life at their tender age. They are exposed to death as shown in the dream, as well as other bad effects of child labor. In lines 11 and 12, the speakers sees children locked up in ‘coffins of black’, an indication of the condition the boys have. They are stuck in the kind of labor that has robbed them their normal lives. On the same note, Tom and the speaker wake in the ‘dark’, a metaphor that shows the miserable lives they have.
The speaker in the poem is an orphan who is forced to be a chimneysweeper, enduring hardships with the other boys. However, we hear less of his perspective in the poem because he spends he presents his little friend Tom’s life and struggles. This fact is evident at the end of the poem, when the speaker says that Tom was ‘happy and warm’ (23). Therefore, the audience is not aware whether the speaker also feels the same way or not. It is also important to appreciate the fact that the speaker seems very intelligent enough to understand what is happening around. He understands that he misses being a child,a privilege denied.He seems to know the benefit of picking the positive side of life, rather than the negative. This is evident when he tells his friend Tom not to worry about the haircut, showing him that he would worry of soot on the white hair.
Setting of the poem seems to be obvious, owing to the fact that these children are chimney sweepers who live a difficult life in a dirty environment.There is no much information on where the children sleep, other than in the ‘soot’.On the contrary, one of the boys dream of a ‘green plane’ (15) and ‘a river’ (16), signifying the contrast that exists between the life they should be having in their childhood against the reality of the black soot from sweeping chimneys. In fact, the poem shows a setting with a very huge difference that exists between how the boys should live against the harsh reality of life at present. The dream plays a major role in putting into perspective the difference between the innocence of the boys and difficulties in place.
Other than the robbed innocence, other themes in this poem include death, suffering and religion. According to the author, it seems these children face certain dangers like early or premature deaths. The dream shows that the boys are dead and locked in the coffin already, meaning that the boys are already dead, having no freedom or lives of their own. It is unfortunate that children face serious suffering because of the reasons not of their making. The father sells the speaker, Tom cries when his hair is shaved and the only place these boys can play is in dream. According the poem, an angel comes in Tom’s dream and unlocks the coffin, later telling him to be a good boy. Religion plays a role in making the boys accept their condition of labor.
The author uses other techniques like rhyme scheme and metonymy to ensure that the audience gets the message. A look at line 1 to 4 indicates a certain rhyme scheme that forms one of the techniques for writing quality poems. For example, ‘young’ (1) rhymes with ‘tongue’(2), and ‘weep’ (3) rhymes with ‘sleep’ (4), making it have a design of AABB. On the same note, metonymy is a technique in poem that allows the author to use a certain word that means something else. For example, when Blake writes in Line 2 that, ‘And my father sold me while yet my tongue’, the word ‘tongue’ does not produce the sound. He refers to the ability of the speaker to speak, it the voice.
In line 6, Blake uses similes ‘like’ by noting that, ‘That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved’. In this line, the simile helps in making a comparison between the curled hair and the innocence of the lamb. This means that the shaving was a sign of the robbing of the boy’s innocence. Metaphor is another technique already mentioned above. Soot is used in line 4 to show that the boys sweep the chimney and sleep in soot. In this case, soot shows the deteriorating kind of life that the boys live. In addition, the ‘locking’ of Tom and his friends in the coffin is a metaphor that shows how the boys have been forced to live a certain life; they have no choice but to stick to what they are told. The word ‘dark’ is also used to indicate the bad life that the boys live; they have to wake ‘in the dark’ and head to work. This showsdarkness that surrounds their lives; it seems there is no light for these kids.
Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper”: Songs of Innocence is a masterpiece that shows all the important elements of a good poem. Though written many decades ago, the techniques like the setting, speaker, symbolism, rhyme, simile and metaphor are conspicuous. This is a story of the young boys whose innocence has been taken away from them. They have no choice but to resign to their own fate, something that the society seems to support.