Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blake's Chimney Sweeper

To me, the most captivating aspect of Blake’s work is the interplay of good and evil, innocence and experience, and light and dark. Blake categorizes his poems as either “songs of innocence” or “songs of experience”—yet there are elements of both innocence and experience in each poem.

In “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence, Blake describes children experiencing death, slavery and filth on a daily basis (p. 81). Despite this, Tom Dacre possesses the same hope and dauntless encouragement most children exhibit. He dreams of an angel with keys to a better life and believes he will one day be delivered from his “coffin”. This knowledge allows Tom to go about his job feeling “happy and warm”. It seems like Tom’s innocent hope trumps the pain of his real-life experiences. The overall tone is one of comfort and hope for the child—a bit of light to get through the darker times.

In “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Experience, the child’s display of innocence despite his tragic situation perpetuates the continued sale of children and the lack of awareness in the adults around him. Blake writes, “And because I am happy & dance & sing, / They think they have done me no injury: / And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King / Who make up a heaven of our misery.” This poem focuses more on the consequences of childhood innocence, and the fact that outward displays of happiness do not always coincide with actual contentment. This happiness has a darker element to it. The happiness is sad to a reader looking over the situation; the reader can step back and see the happiness is built on a false sense of hope and will most likely result in the eventual death of the child and the continued enslavement of other children. In addition, not only are the parents and the employers either ignoring or ignorant of the truth, but the entire city allows these children to work in deplorable conditions for the city’s comfort.


  1. This is really good. I had trouble understanding some parts of these poems. I was having trouble really finding the differences between the two characters. After reading your blog, i think that i may understand more of what Blake is trying to portray in the two different chimney sweeps. I too believe that there is not a clean cut "one is innocence and one is experience" I agree in the fact that both are shown through each boy.

  2. Sarah,

    Good first post in your blog. I like the way you focus on a pair of linked poems by a single author, and the way you quote several lines of each version of "The Chimney Sweeper" in the last two paragraphs (which is a more successful approach than in your first paragraph, where you only quote brief phrases or, worse, merely rely on paraphrase. In future posts I would like to see you go into further depth in your analysis, and engage with the poem more personally if it is appropriate (and I think it is here, given the subject matter). Finally, be sure to cite line numbers when quoting poetry (and page numbers when quoting prose, whether fiction or nonfiction).