The events of the poem take place in the 18th century London. At that time poor parents had a tradition of selling their children to be chimney sweepers (Fulford 39). The central theme of the poem is child labor existing in England during the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. Because little children were small in size, they were sold by their parents to work as chimney sweepers (Gallant 124). The narrator tells about a dream of one of his fellows, who is also a chimney sweeper. The dream is about an angle that comes to save the children and let them out of dark coffins: “And he opened the coffins and set them all free” (14).
And they find themselves in a nice and green area beside a river. After the boy wakes up, the dream gives him hope that one day he will be freed from his ‘black imprisonment’ by his chimney work. The poem has the AABB rhyme scheme. While the language of the poem is simple, the life truth it reveals is terrible: “When my mother died I was very young, And my father sold me…” (1-2).
One can expect nothing positive after such a beginning of the poem. However, the young personality of the poem has rather optimistic mood and hope for a better life. Reading the poem one tends to change his or her perceptions about life. If a little child could hope for the better life, so can I. So, the poem is intended to change minds and hearts of readers about their life perceptions. At the same time, however, the poet has one more poem with the same title The Chimney Sweeper, which was published in another collection, Songs of Experience (1794).
In this poem Blake reflects on such issue as slavery of African American (The Life and Works of William Blake). The issue is looked at from the perspective of a mature adult, not of an innocent child. William Blake’s literary works are full of expressions of antislavery mood. The great poet was against child labor as well as slavery that found its reflection in his poems and prose (Fulford 42).
Human callousness is reflected through the very first lines of the poem The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence: 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 (1-4). The narrator of the poem is an innocent child who reveals his life story starting from the time of beginning of his apprenticeship. The poor child began to work even before he could learn how to speak properly. Instead of calling out “Sweep!
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