SONGS of INNOCENCE 12
THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER
"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 & in soot I sleep,
Theres little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curl'd like a lambs back, was shav'd, 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 be was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a sleeping he had such a sight,
That thousands of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned & Jack
Were all of them lock'd up in coffins of black,
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he open'd the coffins & 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 & 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 & never want joy.
And so Tom awoke and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Tho' the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm,
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm."
Weep, weep, weep doesn't just mean sweep, sweep, sweep it
also means weep, weep, weep!
This introduces a note of sadness, an emotional content to the
poem. The plight of the child and of children like him is brought
to our attention. The child is aware of his situation and feels it
deeply. His dream of seeing himself and his friends being locked
in coffins frightens him as would the actual experience of
climbing the narrow spaces within chimneys.
The Angel has a 'key' to release him and his friends. From the
experience the children have with the Angel, I suspect Blake was
using the Angel to represent the religious position taken by the
established church saying: 'forget about your pain', 'be a good
boy', 'God will reward you later.' Could the Angel's key be church
doctrines which soothe the conscience of the believers? That
Tom was 'happy and warm' because of his experience with the
Angel seems false, spoken ironically.
Can children be trapped in many ways - by their poverty, by the
neglect of their families, by the economic structure of their
society, by living in this mortal flesh, by a church whose doctrines
supported oppression? Yes, in all these ways and many more, of
which Blake was acutely aware and to which he wanted to
SONGS OF EXPERIENCE, THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER
Blake doesn't set limits on how his poem can be interpreted.
He presents it to us, and we respond according to our
psychological, spiritual, social or political condition. As Damon
(A Blake Dictionary) says, "symbolism is a dream which fails it its
entire meaning is obvious."