The poem, ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ is set against the dark background of child labor that was well-known in England in the late 18th and 19th Century”.
Sweeping Chimneys was an arduous task and was by no means to be done by little children. William Blake’s response to the condition of the children who cleaned these dark, polluted, dingy and smelly chimneys are sympathetic and poignant. In both his poems titled The Chimney Sweeper, Blake expounds on the horrible conditions these children experience, one that eventually leads to death. Blake writes that death is in fact the only solace poor children who swept chimneys had. Using techniques such as diction, religious allusions, closure, concrete images and imagery, Blake sets the heartbreaking mood of the chimneysweepers in both his poems.
The mood of both the poems is heartbreaking. The child who is telling the story narrates that before he finished his tender years, he had to leave the house to clean chimneys. Blake’s second line says “Could scarcely cry “weep, weep, weep, weep,” is actually supposed to say sweep, sweep, sweep and sweep. However, his choice of diction, which is clever a play on words say, “weep” because these children were crying because they were still babies and the work was too hard. This poem written in 1789 is quite similar to the written in 1794 because one can deduce that children are still miserable because of the repeated diction. Blake once again sets the mood of his second poem written in 1794 with concrete images as he did with the first one. Images such as “a little black thing, clothes of death, locked up in coffins of black” set up a perturbed forecast of what ultimately awaits them all. The image of blackness is darkness that is enveloping children literally and metaphorically because the soot makes them look black and the unhealthy pollution kill these little ones in their tender years. To counter this terrifying state of blackness, in his thirteenth line Blake says “an angel who had a bright key…set them all free.” He also employs sarcasm when he says death is the only way to have joy and poor Tom Dacre happily goes to clean chimneys so he can die with enthusiasm.
Though both poems are touching, they have differences that will leave the reader in different moods. The poem titled The Chimney Sweeper written in 1789 has a closure starting in the thirteenth line. This closure is buttressed with the aid of images of angels, clouds and green plains. The children who were black because of soot, now wash in a river and shine in the sun. This poem ends with a sense of a “happy ending” so that the children “need not fear harm” because the blackness as disappeared in the light of the sun. Nevertheless, the poem written in 1794 ends with a religious allusion to heaven and its occupants instead of a giving the children hope. In this poem there is no repose explained by Blake to quell the child’s angst. Blake does not mention heaven as a final resting place for the children in the second poem; rather heaven is seen as a cause of the misery. Unlike in the first poem, there is no closure to give a complacent ending to the second poem because of the lack of the rich imagery employed to describe heaven. Thus, the reader is left to experience the child’s angst.
The poems are a reflection of Blake’s heartfelt pain for the little chimneysweepers. These children, despite their age, do menial labor that take a toll on their lives. Both the poems state that death is only path of escape. The differences in the poem are mainly because of the lack of the heavenly imagery in the second poem. Blake accurately describes the condition of the children, but while their final repose seems to be heaven in the first poem, heaven seems to be the cause of the misery of these little ones in the second poem.
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