Analysis Of The Chimney Sweeper by RandyBullock

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									  Songs of Innocence and Experience:
Take William Blake’s Two “The Chimney
        Sweeper”s for Example




           Huang, Pei-Ching (黃佩青)

                    Class 216
    National Hsinchu Girls’ Senior High School
                 March 21st, 2006




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I. Introduction
      From antiquity to modern times, there were historiographers recording the

histories for the countries, but there were still many people who wrote down the

reality of the time in a poetic way. For instance, Bai, Ju Yi (白居易) wrote “Mai Tan

Weng”(賣炭翁) in China, and William Blake wrote “The Chimney Sweeper” in

England. Among those social poems, I am interested in William Blake’s “The

Chimney Sweeper” most and found that there are actually two poems of “The

Chimney Sweeper”. They are one of the “Songs of Innocence” in 1789 and one of the

“Songs of Experience” in 1794. These two poems’ styles are extremely different. It

was five years between the two poems, and what caused the poet to change his writing

style? I try to find out the key point by reading William Blake’s biography and

exploring his writing background.



II. Literature Review
2.1 About William Blake
      William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, a painter, and a printer. He

was born in London. His family was a middle-class one. They had belonged to the

Moravian sect, and the Bible influenced him deeply in his early life. Blake’s parents

were liberal, especially his mother. Her room was decorated with some of his early

drawings and poems. His parents didn’t send him to a school but let him attend

drawing classes. During the time, Blake also studied poetry.

      In 1772, Blake started to apprentice to an engraver, James Basire. After seven

years, he became a professional engraver. In fact, Basire’s engraving style was out of

the loop at that time, and William Blake also followed his style of engraving. This

made Blake a detrimental effect to work in his later life. Two years later, Basire sent

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him to copy the images from Gothic churches. Blake enriched his artistic ideas and

styles in this experience. Blake studied at the Royal Academy in 1779, and he didn’t

have to pay the tuition. He opposed to some people who he regarded as the unfinished

style of fashionable painters there.

      Blake met Catherine in 1782, and they got married in the same year. Catherine

was an illiterate, so Blake taught her to read and write. He even taught her to become

an engraver. Later, she helped him print his illuminated works and became a valuable

assistant to him. Their marriage was a happy one until his death.

      Poetical Sketches, Blake’s first collection of poems, was published in 1783. A

year later, his father died, and he opened a print shop with his brother, Robert, and

began to work with a radical publisher, Joseph Johnson. Blake met some of the

leading intellectual dissidents in England at Johnson’s house. When Blake was at the

age of thirty-one, he began to try relief etching. His books of poems were mostly

produced in this way.

      In 1789, the French Revolution began. A female thinker, Mary Wollstonecraft,

published a book about affirming the French Revolution and blaming the maladies of

the society. This book evoked many radical thinkers like Thomas Paine and William

Blake. Along with those people, Blake was hopeful for the American and French

revolution, and wore a red cap with the French revolutionaries which symbolized

liberty. But when Robespierre rose and the Region of Terror in the French revolution

began, he felt despaired.

      Blake hated slavery and believed in racial and sexual equality. From several of

his poems and paintings, he expressed a thought of universal humanity. He always

concerned about social and political events, but was often forced to hide his social

idealism and political statements in allegories. Extending his compression of rightful

freedom to the Church, he believed in Unitarian philosophy. He showed his spiritual

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beliefs in “Songs of Experience.”

         In the spring and summer of 1825, Blake was very sick, but he still kept his

spirit enthusiastically. In late June, he got better, and then he took a trip to Hampstead.

After that, he had a relapse. Though Blake was going to die, he could control his mind

by means of his art. On the day of Blake’s death, he was working on the Dante series

unremittingly. Eventually, he died in that evening in 1827. He only finished a small

amount of the watercolors. Even so, those arts were considered as Blake’s richest

achievements. His funeral was small-scale and modest.

         In latest years, a memorial was erected in honor of Blake and his wife. “Blake

is now recognized as a Saint in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. The Blake Prize for

Religious Art was established in his honor in Australia in 1949.” 1 Blake indeed

played an important role in literary history.

2.2 The two poems
                        Songs of Innocence-The Chimney Sweeper (1789)

                                 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, and 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; and that very night,

1
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake

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     As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, -

 That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and 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 and 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 and 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, and never want joy.



      And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,

    And got with our bags and our brushes to work.

Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;

     So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.



Songs of Experience- The Chimney Sweeper (1794)

          A little black thing among the snow,

         Crying 'Weep! Weep!’ in notes of woe!

        "Where are thy father and mother, say?"

     "They are both gone up to the church to pray.”



         Because I was happy upon the heath,

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                             And smiled among the winter's snow,

                           They clothed me in the clothes of death,

                            And taught me to sing the notes of woe.



                         And because I am happy and dance and sing,

                            They think they have done me no injury,

                      And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King,

                            Who make up a heaven of our misery."




III. Findings and Analysis
3.1 Appreciation of the two poems
3.1.1 Songs of Innocence

      In this poem, the child is naïve and optimism. This poem can be read innocently

or ironically. Although it may seem bright, Blake used irony in every peaceful

statement to show the child’s miserable experience. “then down a green plain leaping,

laughing, they run, And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.” This statement hints the

life after death for the children. When they are set free from the ‘coffins,’ it means that

they can stay away from the black, dirty chimneys. The angel in the poem symbolizes

the joy they can have, on the other hand, it also symbolizes the children’s death. The

little boy attempts to say ‘sweep’ but says ‘weep,’ so we can know that he is very

young. The children believe that they will be happy after their death. This is a kind of

unacquaintance. Here, Blake contrasted children with death. One is the beginning of

life, and the other is the end. Blake used light description, but at the same time, he

skepticized and accused the injustice of the society indirectly in opposed way.

3.1.2 Songs of experience


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      In this poem, Blake offers a deeper thought of maturity, corruption, and social

injustice. This poem completely contrasts with Songs of Innocence. The boy in this

poem is streetwise. Blake tried to express the social injustice between the chimney

sweeper and his parents. It shows the hypocrisies of the parents and god. The tone is

gloomy and hopes the audience to sympathize the child who is ignored by his parents.

It shows the miserable effects of the Industrial Revolution in London, and the images

of death, despair, grief, and shame in London at that time. Blake used intense

description to accuse the misery directly.

3.1.3 The similarity and difference between the two poems

      Both the two poems emphasize the miserable urban life of a chimney sweeper

during the Industrial Revolution. They are told from a child’s point of view, but there

is a big different in the attitude of the child. In Songs of Innocence, the child is

hopeful. In Songs of Experience, it becomes streetwise and full of despair. The

cheerful tone turns to be a bleak one.

3.2 How Blake moved from Innocence to Experience
      The way Blake writes the two poems has much to do with the French

Revolution. In 1789, the French Revolution began. Blake strongly felt hope due to his

belief in freedom and human rights. It was also the time he wrote Songs of Innocence.

Although the poem seemed hopeful, it was actually a satire. After a few years,

Robespierre rose and the Region of Terror started. Blake felt despaired because what

he saw was injustice of policy and social class. His attitude became dismal, and he

wrote Songs of Experience. As a radical thinker, he used intense tone to point out the

corruption which was very different from Songs of Innocence.

IV. Conclusion
      “The greater the weight [of constraint] is, the bitterer will be the satire. The


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higher the slavery, the more exquisite the buffoonery. “ 2 said Shaftesbury, an English

politician and philosopher. Social poets usually used delight words or images, but

what they really wanted to convey was the dark side of the society. They used

perfectly contrast to make readers have more vivid images.

         Although poets wrote down the reality in a poetic way at that time, we could

see that the background influenced them very much through William Blake’s “The

Chimney Sweeper.” Therefore, when we read a social poem, it is important to notice

the time and the background. While we are reading these poems, we can enjoy

literature and understand what the poet wants to convey. Try to realize the feeling in

the poems, and at the same time, learn something from them.



V. References
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake

2. http://www.marxists.org/subject/mayday/poetry/blake.html

3. http://vm.rdb.nthu.edu.tw/mallok/Folk/content.asp?post_serial=463

4.http://allfreeessays.com/student/How_does_Blake_move_from_innocence_to_exper

    ience_.html




2
    http://www.satire.dk/eb.htm

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