THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
The Chimney Sweeper is a poem written by William Blake which was published in Songs of Innocence in 1789.This poem consists of four stanzas which revolves around two young chimney sweeps’ life in London. Chimney sweep is a dangerous work of clearing ash and soot from chimneys and children were forced into it as climbers. Later many petition and acts were passed to stop these brutal activities and some mechanical processes were emerged. This poem sets against a backdrop of child labour with the rhyme scheme of A A B B. Come let’s experience the innocence of being young chimney sweeps. . .
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.
There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved, so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."
And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.
Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father & never want joy.
And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.
An anguished child speaks as a first person in this poem. He says that his mother died when he was young and his father sold him at that very young age to master sweep. He expresses his age as he doesn’t even know how to cry for help and speak at that stage. Since the day his father left him there, he leads his life there as a chimney sweep by sweeping and sleeping in filthier places.
Here comes a second new young boy named Tom Dacre. This kid cries when his head got shaved. The speaker compares his hair with a lamb's back (as ‘lamb’ represents innocence and that kid's innocence get stripped). To comfort that kid, he says ‘Hush, Tom!’ not to worry because being a shaven head, his white hairs cannot be spoiled by black smoke.
This calms that kid and later that night Tom has a vision in his dreamy sleep. In that sight he saw thousands of sweepers like Dick, Joe, Ned and Jack who were locked in black coffins as dead. Thereby came an Angel with bright keys to unlock them all from coffins to set them free. Once the coffins get opened they run like happy kids by laughing and jumping through the green fields. They have had a bath in a river and shine fresh in sunlight. Then naked and clean without their work baggage, they all rise upon heaven by frisking (play) in the wind. Thus, the Angel tells Tom that:
“. . . . . , if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never Want Joy”
As Angel told that God will take care of him if he act in a specified way, Tom wakes up and rises in the dark with all others. Because of this dream, even in the morning chillness he feels happy and warm. He thinks that if all do their duty, they need not fear any hurt or impair because God will take care of their fineness.