The Chimney Sweeper
by William Blake
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.
There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, 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 he 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 locked up in coffins of black;
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened 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.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.
Summary of The Chimney Sweeper
- Popularity of “The Chimney Sweeper”: This poem was written by William Blake, a popular English poet. ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ is a popular poem on account of its theme of poverty and the life of the working children. It was first published in 1789. The poem comprises the agony of children who were forced to live a miserable life. The children had to survive and earn their livelihood by sweeping chimney at a very young age during the time of William Blake. Its popularity lies in that it depicts the innocence of the children.
- “The Chimney Sweeper” As a Representative of Sorrow: As this poem is about the young chimney sweepers, the speaker details how he gets involved in sweeping chimney business. He says that his father had put him into the work as a chimney sweeper after the death of his mother. The speaker also recounts the story of his fellow chimney sweeper, Tom, who was hurt when his head was shaved. The narrator consoles him, and he goes to sleep. Tom had a dream in which he saw that all sweepers are in coffins. An angel comes and sets the children free. Then they play happily in the sun, and the angel tells Tom that he will have a heaven of his own. Next morning when he wakes up he decides to work hard because he believes that if he works hard, he will get a reward.
- Major Themes in “The Chimney Sweeper”: Misery, death, and hope are the major themes of this poem. The poem presents the miseries of children as chimney sweepers and their contentment in life. It is through the mouth of two young speakers the poet conveys his idea that one should not lose hope. First, they are seen unhappy with their job, but later they accept their fate after having that vision and, somehow their lives become easy for them. They believe that their hard work would surely pay them in the long run.
Analysis of Literary Devices in “The Chimney Sweeper”
Literary devices are tools used to make the texts understandable for the readers. They also allow the readers to interpret the text in multiple ways. William Blake has also employed some literary devices in this poem to make it superb. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /ee/ in “Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!” and the sound of /i/ in “And so he was quiet, & that very night”.
- Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between persons or different objects. There is one metaphor used in the first line of the last stanza. “And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark” where ‘dark’ is the metaphor of miserable life of the chimney sweeping children.
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /l/ and /p/ in “Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!” and the sound of /r/ in “So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.”
- Simile: It is a figure of speech used to compare persons or objects to make the meanings clear. For example, “That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, so I said”, here the poet compares Tom’s hair with lamb wool.
- Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line but with quick succession such as the sound of /l/ in “That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, so I said” and the sound of /c/ and /w/ in “Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep”; “Then naked & white, all their bags left behind” and “And got with our bags & our brushes to work.”
- Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings different from their literal meanings. Lamb is the symbol of childhood and innocence and “green plain” symbolizes freedom and prosperity.
Analysis of Poetic Devices in “The Chimney Sweeper”
Poetic Devices refer to those techniques a poet uses to bring uniqueness in his text. The analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem is given below.
- Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are five stanzas in this poem; each comprises four lines.
- Quatrain: Quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here each stanza is quatrain.
- Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the AABB rhyme scheme.
- End Rhyme: End Rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “young/tongue”, “weep/sleep” and “boy/joy.”
Quotes to be Used
The lines stated below can be used to describe the pain one feels after the death of his parents.
“When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”