William Blake's The Chimney Sweeper
William Blake's The Chimney Sweeper, written in 1789, tells the story of what happened to many young boys during this time period. Often, boys as young as four and five were sold for the soul purpose of cleaning chimneys because of their small size. These children were exploited and lived a meager existence that was socially acceptable at the time. Blake voices the evils of this acceptance through point of view, symbolism, and his startling irony.
Blake expresses his poem in first person, as a young chimney sweeper. This gives his poetic voice creditability because the subject of the poem is chimney sweepers. In addition, using first person creates a deeper sense of sympathy in the reader. This young boy, the poetic voice, lost his mother while “[he] was very young'; (554). Soon after the loss of his mother “[his] father sold [him] while yet [his] tongue/ Could scarcely cry ‘ ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!’'; (554). This sympathy allows the reader to realize not only how these children lived, but also how they felt and how they were deprived of their childhood.
Blake also uses symbolism to express the evils of exploiting these small boys. Most of this symbolism appears to be about death. This gives the poem a dark mood. For example, Blake writes “So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep'; (554). Most of the boys who were sold into chimney sweeping died very young because the soot inhalation destroyed their lungs. In this quote sleeping in soot symbolizes dying in soot, or from the soot. Blake also symbolizes these boys’ fate with the lines “That thousands of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack/ Were all of them locked up in coffins of black'; (554). In this quote the “coffins of black'; symbolize the chimneys (554). Ultimately this all symbolizes the boys’ death because of their terrible life cleaning chimneys at such a young age. In the next stanza an Angel comes “And he opened the...