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Nadja S.C.

N Vleugel 5th

The Chimney Sweeper


In the two poems both named the chimney sweeper by William Blake, Blake expresses his stand on the unjust inflicted upon the young children in the sweeping profession. The poems show a similar subject and opinion with the identical use of imagery and diction. Yet their tone is different. In the first poem the words weep, weep, weep set an ambiguous strain by emphasizing how young these sold and working children were through demonstrating their inability to say sweep. These words also strongly resemble the word weep accentuating the misery of these young children. Further on in the poem the hair of little Tom Dacre is described to look like that of a lamb. Lambs generally symbolize innocence and childhood, and the shaving of it represents the boys childhood being taken against his will. In the stanza after this the coffins of black is also a symbol. It depicts the deaths of the thousands of chimney sweeps. The connotation of the coffins specifically being black hints that the cause of their deaths is their profession that caused them to be covered in black from head to toe. Noticeable also is the use of polysynedon mostly throughout the more positive parts of the poem. All the great things of their heaven are summed up in a very childlike way. Its almost like a kid imagining the way they want their perfect bowl of ice-cream; with chocolate-syrup and sprinkles and m&ms and whipped-cream and, and, and It makes it seem too good to be true. The promised heaven being too good to be true can be Blake questioning the afterlife promised to the suffering, poor and weak by the guilty. The angel with the bright key frees the sweeps in the only way possible from the lives they find themselves in, by death. In this heaven they leave their bags behind and wash off all the soot of their lives. The clouds and wind symbolize their sad freedom, because the only way they obtained it was by dying. Imagery is also used in these more positive stanzas with diction like: leaping, green plain, shine, sun, free and laughing. It gives a good and innocent picture of how children are the happiest, just playing outside, not performing slavish labor in poverty-stricken cities.

In the final stanza of the first poem it is clear that the children dont see their own victimization in the labor they perform. They stay hopeful throughout all situations hoping for a better (after)life, keeping them happy & warm. On the other hand it can also be seen as the way of the church & superiors to oppress the working-class by them making the children believe they will eventually be rewarded for their unquestioning obedience, and the children gullibly accepting it as a truth. In the second poem Blake is more focused on the natural nature of children and the hypocrisy of the church the monarchy and the parents. A little black thing among the snow emphasizes again how the childrens childhood is taken or polluted for the comfort to others through imagery and symbolism. Imagery is displayed in the poem as the black amongst all the pure white snow. And the symbolism in the irregularity of black disturbing the image of all the white. This can be interpreted as the unjust and cruelty done to a small part of innocent children and so many other lives entirely untouched and unaffected. It can also be concluded from the diction- using words like: up, think, praise and make up- that the child/narrator depicts the parents, church and monarchy to be very hypocritical. Hypocritical, because they dont lay the blame by themselves or anyone for that matter even though they are the cause of the childrens misery. And just like the first poem it mentions the good attitude and natural ability of children to have fun in the worst of times. In the second stanza it says that as the child was naturally positive they specifically had to teach him the notes of woe. However, in this poem it is evident that, because the child is happy & dance & sing, people think that they have done no wrong, that the children have not been wronged, or that at least they do not feel like they have been wronged. Lastly, William Blake as well as the narrator, the child, expresses a lot of anger in this second poem. The children being clothed in the clothes of death by their parents is Blake blaming the parents of sentencing their children to a young death and misery because of the work they will be forced to do. And again, as in the first poem he expresses his anger towards the monarchy and church for guaranteeing heaven if the people suffer enough in this life. Only the difference lies in the sarcasm or irony being harsher in the second poem because of the already stated hypocrisy and the possibility that the hopeful tone in the first poem can be intended to be true.

To summarize, in both poems Blake uses devices like connotation, imagery and diction to form a tone on the same subject even though the ton e they express is different. In the first one Blake strains that practically the only way for them to be freed of their sad lifestyle is by an early death. These deaths are also described in the second poem, where he blames the parents for sentencing the children to an early death because of the profession they are forced into by these parents. The church and monarchy are also blamed for ensuring the people they will get heaven after their lives full of suffering to suppress them. Also in both poems the writer or narrator mentions the naturally positive and playful spirit children posses. However in the first poem he describes how children are the happiest: playing outside, while the second poem states that because these children remain with certain happiness even in their miserable situations, people falsely assume no harm has come to them. Moreover, the tones differ in the way that poem 1 is more hopeful for these children, while poem 2 mostly blames society for their conditions.