William Blake’s "The Chimney Sweeper" : A comparative Study From "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience"



“Blake’s writings contained an honesty against which the whole world conspires because it is unpleasant.”-- T. S. Eliot

English poet and artist William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience are his best-known works of poetry and have had a lasting influence on children’s literature. If some of his songs explore the innocence of children’s understanding of God and the natural world,  Others, such as “The Chimney Sweeper” reveals the hardships both children and adults must confront in the unsheltered world of “experience.”




The Chimney Sweeper from the Songs of Innocence has a happy and hopeful tone. this poem displays the true innocence of childhood, as the author writes that "the angel told Tom if he is a good boy he will have God as his father and never want joy" this creates a sinless state, someone free from moral wrong, as is true with innocence. Blake is trying to show how poorly the young children are being treated. Sold into basic slavery, not even old enough to pronounce "sweep" correctly which is an acquired dialect that can only be pronounced correctly with age. In stead the children cry “weep!" begging for sympathy from the readers.

The Chimney Sweeper in the Songs of Innocence is wholly set apart from its fellow poems in the collection in terms of its exploration of the abuse of innocence in place of celebrating innocence. The poem is essentially about innocence rather than being innocent in nature, as Blake chooses to employ a narrator who is clearly of a more experienced mind set in terms of being at least partially, if not entirely, aware of the deception and false hope that is being fed to Little Tom Dacre by the angel of the poem.  
William Blake
This poem also shows the faith and hope the children have in God. The angel tells Tom that if he does his duty he will have God as his father, someone he didn't have when he was growing up. " He'd have God for his father, and never want joy." this provides more than enough reason for Tom to continue with his dreadful duties in order to one day finally be happy with his creator. This poem from 'Songs of Innocence' is deeply contrasted against the poems from 'Songs of Experience'.

The central theme in ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ featured in the ‘Song of Innocence’ collection is the fact that if one lives a life doing his ‘duties’, one will go to heaven. Already, this shows naivety, as it has such a simple meaning. This is something that a child is more likely to understand, and being part of the ‘Songs of Innocence’, this seems a realistic central theme. However, whilst the theme in the ‘Innocence’ collection has a very simple theme, the poem featuring in the ‘Songs of Experience’ collection is questioning the work of God. It also questions religion, showing that adulthood has a much more complicated view on not just Blake’s subjects, but any topic or matter.

A quote that shows naivety in the ‘Innocence’ collection is:
‘And the angel told Tom is he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father and never want joy’

This quote not only proves the central theme of doing good and going to heaven, but it also shows the lack of awareness that Tom and other children have. Firstly, Blake uses the word ‘angel’. The poem shows us that as a child, we are simply taught to accept everything we are told. By including the word ‘angel’, Blake is proving this theory. This is because, in adulthood, we would question the subject and ask, “is there such a thing as an angel?”. A child, however, would believe in such a thing, even with no reason for doing so, just as they also believe in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy. Blake also suggests that ‘Little Tom Dacre’ will be rewarded is he does good things and lives a good life, by saying that Tom ‘will have God as his father’. As a very young child, Tom was sold by his father, as it illustrates in the early stages of the poem. Therefore, if Tom understands his responsibilities as a chimney sweeper and a neglected child, God will honour him and become the father that Tom grew up without and missed in his childhood. However, a quote contrasting the previous passage and also belonging to the ‘Experience’ collection is:
‘They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe’

Whilst in the ‘Songs of Innocence’ the quote talks about rewarding those who accept their responsibilities, this quote talks about the opposite, and juxtaposes the other. This quote talks about punishing people and accepting the fact that they won’t be rewarded. By clothing someone in ‘clothes of death’, Blake is showing the audience that although it is the parents’ responsibility to clothe a child, the boy subject of this poem is not being clothed in real clothes, but metaphorical clothes of ‘death’. This shows us that the parents of this little boy have not only neglected the child, but their responsibility to look after the boy, also.

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