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.