Blake: Chimney Sweeper Essay

Submitted By likeoreos23
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Pages: 6

William Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper” (Songs of Innocence) and William Wordworth’s “We Are Seven” examine naivety and innocence in a much different manner. The two poems deal with children and their respective methods of coping with tragedy in their lives. In both poems, the children deal with adversity by relying on denial, but the two poets use different tones to impart to the reader their specific views on innocence and denial. Blake treats innocence with disdain and mocks the conventional view of innocence as bliss. Wordsworth treats innocence with awe and does not view naivety with the negativity that Blake does. While both are considered Romantic poets, they vary in how they handle the issue of imagination and the relation of innocence and experience in the writing of poetry. “The Chimney Sweeper” portrays a young chimney sweeper’s life and the way he chooses to deal with the hardships he encounters. The young man in the poem is ensconced in innocence and remains so throughout the poem. James Harrison writes of the young man, “The speaker is older; his days of proclaiming his calling in life to be ‘weep! weep! weep! weep!’ are far enough behind him to comfort Tom when the latter’s head must be shaved. However, though his few years’ seniority have given him a protective sense of responsibility, they have robbed him of little if any of his innocence.” (1) Blake keeps the young men entrenched in innocence throughout the poem to highlight the damage innocence can cause if it never evolves into experience. The subject of the poem and his companions cling to the optimistic dream of Tom Dacre and do not dwell on their miserable existence. Tom is their instructor, but instead of leading them into experience, he grounds them in innocence and naivety. He gives them false hope with his dream offering the promise of eternal happiness with God. The imagery surrounding Tom is that of ultimate innocence, a lamb, and the other children become lamb-like followers as well. Imagery of good versus evil abounds in the poem. The colors black and white are used to show the concrete difference between good and evil. In Tom’s dream the children are naked and white which alludes to purity and innocence. The soot of the chimneys personifies pure evil because it is corrupting these innocent children, using them and throwing them away. He also uses darkness and light effectively in the poem. In Tom’s dream the children bathe in the river and shine in the sun after being set free from their coffins. The light is associated with the angel and the happiness of the children after being released from their bondage. This is in opposition to the last stanza in which Tom wakes up in the dark to begin his toil. The evil reality is that these children are separated from their families and performing a terrible job and this happens in the dark. In “The Chimney Sweeper” Blake has the reader believe the children have accepted their lot in life and have naïve illusions about their future. The child in the poem is unrealistically optimistic, clinging to a dream of a friend. He does not even have a dream or vision of his own. The reader knows the tragic life this boy will have, so the false hope of the child is ironic and pathetic. Blake viewed complacency (innocence) as dangerous, so the tone of this poem is disdainful toward innocence and the adults that facilitated the terrible situation. Blake does not embrace blissful childhood and almost mocks their attempt at avoiding their bleak fate by clinging to a clichéd moral in the end of the poem. The poem ends with the decree that if they work hard they should not feel fear, but the reader realizes it is because they work hard they will come to great harm and most likely an early death. Though all of this is subversive and visible only to the reader. “We Are Seven” chronicles a conversation between an adult, the voice of experience, and a child. The child continues to answer