The chimney sweeper is a poem published by William Blake in two parts. Blake wrote about the sweeps he saw in agony in the streets of London as they experienced hardship. He put one in the Songs of innocence which was published in 1789 while the Songs of experience was produced in 1793 to show the two sides of the human soul. The chimney sweepers aim at a child that has no illusions about the dark life he has encountered. It portrays the dark background that child labour revealed in England. The poem ‘Chimney Sweeper ‘of Innocence brings out strongly the theme of innocence as Blake reveals his feelings on chastity. The poor innocence of children is seen in ‘Innocence which Blake deals with. Children, out of purity do not understand the circumstances that surround them as well as the situations they find themselves concerning child labour.
In ‘The Chimney Sweeper ‘of Innocence, young Tom Dacre has a dream, and it discloses the fiction that redemption is found in the next world after suffering in the present world. Tom Dacre does not see falsehood in it due to his blamelessness. He firmly believes in the dream and the fact that it was capable of happening since it seemed true from his glimpse. Dacre echoes the doctrine of oppression in the last line of the poem that states that; ‘if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.’ His innocent nature does not allow him to criticise the oppression being faced by the little souls yet he incarnated the language of abuse. Tom is not aware that he has been lured into believing that hardship must be a norm in every day’s life. This discloses how children’s rights are being abused in societies both in the past and the present.
In the poem ‘Chimney sweeper’ of Innocence, William Blake brings out the concept of absence of innocence in young boys. They have experienced no childhood absolutely since they get up very early before dawn to clean up the chimneys. They are forced to live a dark life covered with soot. They only get the chance to play in their dreams but not in the real world. They are expected by the cruel and corrupt society to have come to a point where they have gained experience in performing unjust actions they have been subjected to.
In the poem, the speaker was sold into chimney sweeping by his father when his mother died as quoted ‘When my mother died I was very young, And my father sold me while yet my tongue could rarely cry ‘weep! Weep! Weep! (1-3).’His Father gave him away to be a chimney sweeper for them to obtain money. The narrator could not defend himself to escape slavery since he was wholly innocent and couldn’t air out his grievances since he obeyed his father. He felt that his father was in control and charge of everything. He says that he began the work when he had hardly learned how to speak. This shows the transition from an innocent child that has dreams to one who has accepted his fate.
In the line ‘There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head, that curled like a lamb’s back was shaved (5-6)’ Dacre is equalised to a lamb which is the most innocent animal. His blamelessness has however been ripped off by the chimney-sweeping industry. He has been exposed to poor environments of slavery. Tom’s dreams illustrate to us what innocence should at least look like. The reality however only exists in his mind and thoughts. , in this case, seems like a fantasy in some way yet just there to be hoped for at least for the young ones in the poem. ‘Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run, and was in a river and shine in the sun’ shows how innocence was deluded in the poem.
‘The Chimney Sweeper’on innocence reveals how boys at a tender age were sold out by families who were unable to feed and take care of them and later left in oppression. Young children’s innocence is being taken away from them at early stages in life. The innocent, that being the young ones have no way of comprehending the world in which they live in and circumstances surrounding them. This has made innocence seem a very frightening state to find oneself in. Although children are pure at heart, the world’s unmindful nature has also become a part of them.
Blake criticises views of the church that through hard work, awards will be gained. This spearheaded exploitation of young people and societal abuse of children. He uses this poem to highlight the threats that a naïve and innocent view of child labour has on society as a whole. Children are being forced into child labour due to different circumstances. As a result of purity, the sweep in the chimney sweepers could not let out his feelings as he trusts that sadness is normal and part of life. This indicates how innocence has made young people less vibrant and unable to air their perspectives on different issues. He accepted to live with being untidy and unclean.
The little boy, Tom Dacre who is narrated in the song from innocence is not able to understand the nature of the world he has found himself in since he has confidence that everything that happens is bound to happen. The whiteness of children and their nakedness symbolises blamelessness because they are not shy of anyone and stay in their pure state. Innocence is expressed in the line ‘Then naked and white, all their bags left behind; they rise upon clouds and sport in the wind.’ They leave behind shame and the circumstances they have been put through to embrace their innocence vividly. The children do not care who is seeing them since shame is unknown to them (Laurence and McCallum 2018).
In the poem Tom Dacre illustrates the theme of innocence when his dream becomes his basis of motivation to carry on with life.in the line; ‘though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm: So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.’ The description in this line helps us recall the children playing in the dream. It is unlikely and utmost weird for Tom to be happy and motivated in his current condition of misery in the chimney sweepers industry where he was made to work. However, out of purity, the dream seems to have clouded his mind and made him think that life could be better at one time. And most probably the treatment and working conditions at the chimney sweepers industry.
The speaker at some point knew about the poor sanitary conditions as well as poor living conditions that came along with being a sweeper. This was brought about by the little pay received from work, harsh treatment, poor relations between the young sweepers and their employees as well as untidiness (Mitchell, 2017). He mentioned in the poem that he sweeps soot off the chimney and even sleeps with the place full of it. This is because the work was quite clumsy and tiresome and like an innocent child he did not mind about his unclean self as he settled after work to have a rest.
William Blake did not feel sorry for himself due to the life he led but felt sympathy for little tom Dacre. He felt his innocence and sympathised with the state and circumstances in his life that deprived him his purity.in the first instance where colour is mentioned that is in line 8, ‘you know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair’. This line unveils the problem occurring in the poem that Tom Dacre and other sweepers are experiencing. The narrator says that they are becoming shaggy and filthy because of the soot that came out of the chimneys they swept. The unsanitary condition and black carbon are polluting and tainting the chimney sweepers white hair. White is symbolic and refers to the purity of the child and not old age.
For Blake in the line ‘, the sweepers cry every blackening church appals,’ church symbolises purity since to everyone a church is a holy place (Blake, 1988). However in this poem, the theme of blamelessness is not being embraced in the churches since instead of money being channelled to help the young sweepers in the chimney industry, it is spent in churches. The young ones are instead left to live in misery and poverty and forced to work in the chimney industry as cleaners. The church does not demonstrate its known nature of being innocent by letting the children wallow in suffering and uncertain circumstances (Davis, 2011).
In the fourth verse, the theme of innocence is brought out in the instance when Tom Dacre had a dream. The angel comes and opens the coffin to set them free. This opening of coffins symbolises innocence.The children have a nature of being innocent, and in the dream their purity made the angel free them since they were not meant to be suffering and passing through hardship. That was uncalled for, and the angel had to release them from their oppressive lifestyle. Blake speaks about a young girl who is walking in the streets alone at midnight in the final verse. The young lady had to resort to prostitution due to poverty. This took away the innocent nature of a child since she had no other option.She has been robbed of her purity at a very tender age due to the unavoidable circumstances she has found herself exposed to.
Change in childhood perception has enhanced child labour. Where has children’s innocence gone to and when will it ever be regained? Children are being given the same duties and positions as adults; thus they are more exposed to evil acts adults engage in. In my opinion, policies and programs should be enhanced to improve children’s welfare and preserve their dignity and innocence. This should be spearheaded from the leading authority that is the government to the grass root levels.
Blake, W. (1988). The Chimney Sweeper. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Newly rev. ed. Ed. David V. Erdman. New York: Anchor.
Davis, R. A. (2011). The brilliance of a fire: Innocence, experience and the theory of childhood. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 45(2), 379-397.
Laurence, J., & McCallum, D. (2018). On Innocence Lost: How Children Are Made Dangerous. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 7(4), 148-164.
Mitchell, J. (2017). The Empty Child: Dystopian Innocence and Samuel Delany’s Hogg. European journal of American studies, 11(11-3).