SONGS of INNOCENCE 12 (E 10)
THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER
THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER
"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,
Theres little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curl'd like a lambs back, was shav'd, 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 be 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 lock'd up in coffins of black,
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he open'd 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.
Tho' the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm,
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm."
Weep, weep, weep doesn't just mean sweep, sweep, sweep it also means weep,
weep, weep! This introduces a note of sadness, an emotional content to the
poem. The plight of the child and of children like him is brought to
our attention. The child is aware of his situation and feels it deeply.
His dream of seeing himself and his friends being locked in coffins
frightens him as would the actual experience of climbing the narrow
spaces within chimneys.
The Angel has a 'key' to release him and his friends. From the
experience the children have with the Angel, I suspect Blake was using
the Angel to represent the religious position taken by the established
church saying: 'forget about your pain', 'be a good boy', 'God will
reward you later.' Could the Angel's key be church doctrines which
soothe the conscience of the believers? That Tom was 'happy and warm'
because of his experience with the Angel seems false - spoken
Can children be trapped in many ways - by their poverty, by the neglect
of their families, by the economic structure of their society, by living
in this mortal flesh, by a church whose doctrines supported oppression?
Yes, in all these ways and many more, of which Blake was acutely aware
and to which he wanted to sensitize us.
SONGS OF EXPERIENCE, 37, THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER (E 22)
Blake doesn't set limits on how his
poem can be interpreted. He
presents it to us, and we respond
according to our psychological,
spiritual, social or political condition.
As Damon (A Blake Dictionary)
says, "symbolism is a dream which
fails it its entire meaning is obvious."