The University of Toronto at Scarborough

ENGB02Y: English Literature: Historical Survey (SpringTerm)

Instructor: Melba Cuddy-Keane

William Blake, "The Chimney Sweeper" (Innocence) and "The Chimney Sweeper" (Experience)

"The Chimney Sweeper" (Innocence)

- theme directs reader to think about exploitation of children
- (chimney sweeps could be bought for 7 years for less than the price of a terrier
- as in "The Lamb," we hear a child's voice; the child tells his own story
- "So your chimney's I sweep"--addressed to middle/upper class reader
- little boy ("Tom") ashamed because he has had his hair shaved off (for lice?)
- reveals the transforming power of the imagination
- dream of heaven brings happiness
- the green fields, the clean river water and the sunshine erase the soot
- alternative vision also expressed in the speaker's caring for the other boys
- love, sense of shared identity opposes hardship
- poem ends with a moral
- but is the moral for the children or for the adults? Who is it that ought to do their duty?

"The Chimney Sweeper" (Experience)

- refers to annual May Day procession of sweeps in which they danced in the streets, whitened their hair with powder, decorated themselves with bits of foil and ribbon--a kind of Saturnalia
- objectification of child: "a little black thing"
- contrast sympathetic identification with sweeper-speaker in companion poem in Songs of Innocence
- authority figures--parents, God, king
- seems to refer to symbolic rather than literal parents
- here adults transform misery into heaven
- but not positive transformation as in Innocence
- they shut their eyes to real suffering
- what does last line mean?
- that the adults get material profit out of the misery of the poor?
- or that they comfort themselves in Church with thoughts of their "charity"?
- an ambiguous, disturbing end to the poem

These notes are intended for the use of students in a lecture course; for any other use, please acknowledge this site.


CITD Home Page

Bladen Library WWW

Scarborough College

ENGB02 Home