In The Chimney Sweeper, William Blake highlights the shocking conditions in which the young chimney sweeps exist, as boys barely old enough to even say sweep instead of "weep," are taken into service . The poem appears as part of Songs of Innocence and there is a distinct recognition by the reader that the boys live in the midst of terrible experiences. The poem of the same name also appears in the Songs of Experience. The Innocence version reveals that the boys do not know any better and accept their situation; even little Tom Dacre is "happy and warm." Tom's dream of the boys who are "locked up in coffins of black" is meant to horrify the reader as the boys' only release comes from the angel with the "bright key." The symbolism seems to escape the seven year old narrator but is not lost on the reader who understands, even though it is not said, only implied, that these boys will continue in these jobs until they either die from soot in their lungs or get too big to fit up the chimneys. Being "a good boy" is something to be encouraged but, for these boys, there is no reward, except to continue doing "their duty." Failure to do so will undoubtedly result in the "harm" the boys want to avoid as they will be punished if they do not do a good job. Cruelty to children was an unregulated and shocking social issue of the time; one which William Blake felt strongly about.
Hence, the second version appears in Songs of Experience. Here, the tone is mocking and judgmental. The young boy is still the narrator and he still accepts his situation to the point that those who force him to work, his parents, " think they have done me no injury." However, the boy is much wiser and the irony of the situation does not escape him in this version as he can see how contradictory it is to "praise God and His priest and king," whilst young boys suffer as chimney sweeps. The boys in the earlier version are met by an angel and "wash in a river and shine in the sun;" in the latter version, the narrator recognizes only the "misery."
William Blake is able therefore to express his dissatisfaction with the situation and reveal how acceptance of a situation does not make it acceptable.
William Blake writes ‘The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence)’ and ‘The Chimney Sweeper (Experience)’ to be viewed as one because they both explain how young children’s purity is being taken from them and they are being forced to practice life before adulthood. These poems dramatize the conflict between innocence and experience through the use of multiple poetic devices.
The poem ‘The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence)’ conveys the loss of innocence which gives an enhanced image of the speaker being a child with a life of difficulties. This is evident when the speaker says, ‘And my father sold me while yet my tongue could scarcely cry ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!'(2-3). The first stanza continues with ‘So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep’ (4),to express that the child is being forced into child labor. Also, the image of this line literally informs the reader that the child sleeps in soot, but also means that the grunge covers the boy ‘head to toe’ after cleaning the chimneys. In the second stanza the speaker shifts from expressing details about himself to another sweeper named Tom Dacre ‘who cried when his head, that curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved’ (5-6). Comparing Tom to a lamb not only confers the reader with an image of how curly Tom’s hair is but it also refers to the virtuousness of a child and a lamb. Now that Tom’s head is shaved, the reader is enlightened with the loss of his innocence.
Afterwards, Tom has a bizarre dream ‘That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack, were all of them locked up in coffins of black’ (11-12) Blake utilized some familiar names to emphasize that there are numerous children being forced to work leading them to their death. In his dream an angel appears and frees them. Before Tom awakes ‘the angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy, He’d have God for his father, and never want joy’ (19-20) gave Tom a new perspective. He now believes that he is important and will be taken care of no matter what, but the irony of the lesson Tom learned is that throughout these children’s life they will always have to experience life’s troubles not only physically but also mentally.
The children in ‘The Chimney Sweeper (Experience)’now have a full comprehension of life. The speaker changes to someone who witnesses ‘a little black thing among the snow, crying ”weep! ‘weep!’ in notes of woe!'(1-2). Here the speaker’s heart is touched and he refuses to leave the child so he initiates a conversation with the child about why his parents were not there. The child replies ‘they are both gone up to the church to pray’ (4), which makes the reader believe that though the child has experienced so much in his lifetime he now understands that nothing is permanent. In the second stanza the child enlightens the speaker about how he was happy until his parents forced him into child labor which caused a different type of pain. Also, the child tells the speaker that ‘they clothed me in the clothes of death, and taught me to sing the notes of woe’ (7-8) which informs the reader that not only his parents are the cause of his pain but they will also be the reason for his death. In the final stanza the child’s anger cultivates and the blame is focused towards his parents and others. The stanza begins by providing an image of a child’s unhappiness of being forced to work which causes pain and an adult’s cluelessness of the pain that is being put upon the child. This is evident when the child says ‘because I am happy and dance and sing, they think they have done me no injury’ (9-10). The poem concludes by the child informing the speaker that the adults in society have ‘gone to praise God and his priest and king, who make up a heaven of our misery’ (11-12). Here the child is expressing that the adults in society are the true reason why the children are being forced to experience life’s troubles and pain.
Within these poems Blake expresses two dissimilar attitudes that enable the reader to view one main idea about child labor via two different scenarios. His first position towards child labor demonstrates sympathy towards children who are being forced into adulthood. In the second poem his tone becomes judgmental towards a non caring society. He is annoyed with everyone that is in favor of child labor because he feels it ruins the childhood experience. A child needs to be a child while they can, not a childhood slave.