Critical Analysis of William Blake’s poem The Chimney Sweeper from “Song of Experience”

The poem The Chimney Sweeper of William Blake’s Song of Experience is a touching song of woe of the wretched chimney sweepers of the poet’s age. This is a song of a chimney sweep, not an innocent child. Thus is rather a lad who has countered some sorrowful experiences of a chimney sweeper. The song is a bitter indictment of the state in which the helpless chimney sweepers are made to live and work in hardship and hazards.

The present poem is, no doubt, a companion poem of The Chimney Sweeper in the volume of Songs of Innocence. This has, however, nothing of the simple faith and the innocent joy of the other poem. Nothing of the inspiration or animation of the other poem is noticed here. It is all a song of anger and pathos in a poor chimney sweep’s state of life.

Indeed, Blake’s song of the chimney sweeper rouses both pathos and anger for the state of his life, lost in hard drudgery and grave hazards. The normal boy in the little chimney sweeper is turned into a black thing, drudging with the sad song of ‘sweep’ on his lips. He sweeps, and is left with nothing but the unceasing notes of woe. The very first two lines of the song cleanly bring out the deep pathos in a chimney sweeper’s lot.

This tone of pathos is intensified in the next two lines that highlight the callosity of the parents. They have all gone to pray in the church in satisfaction, leaving behind their little son to the hazardous job of sweeping the tall sooty chimneys.

There is the heightening of the tone of pathos in the next stanza that focuses the selfish, cruel dealing of the parents. Jealous of his free, easy-going, open-air life, they dragged the little child from his place of play and put him into the hard life of a poor drudge. So he continues to drudge in the clothes of death and to sing ‘the notes of woe”.

Sorrow and suffering strike at the depth of heart and often results in anger and resentment. This is remarkably marked in the unfortunate chimney-sweeper’s reaction to his life of drudgery and misfortune. His anger comes against both his parents who have put him untimely into troublesome and anguishing work only for their own selfish interest and profit. They have their selfish consolation, seeing him happy and merry amid the darkness of his drudgery, that they have done him no ‘injury’. This is only a plea of selfishness, a deception to hide personal gains and ease, under the cover of gentleness.

The temper of the poem does not get contended only in the anger against an individual. The humanist in Blake does not ignore the role of society in human degradation and suffering. The concluding lines of the chimney-sweeper’s song sarcastically expose and ridicule the vanity of the society that exploits and enjoys, of course in the name of God and religious piety. Out of the misery of the helpless, poor, suffering humanity, the big people, the so-called deputies of God–the priests and the kings-, build up their own heaven of happiness.

“And are gone to praise God and his priest and king.
Who make up a Heaven of our misery”

Blake’s child-song is here rich in profound thought about social injustice and inequality, human exploitation, and human misery. Adult wisdom seems to peep and voice itself through the much wounded and angry lad in the chimney sweeper who does not accept his pitiful lot with faith in God and Christian morality.

Nevertheless, the poem remains a child’s song. This is evident in the very poetic technique that has a childlike quality in its simplicity of diction and thought. The diction of the poem is all as simple and convincing as a child needs and can speak out. The music of the poem is melodious to catch the ears easily and to go deep into the hearer’s heart. In this respect, both the Chimney-Sweeper poems have the same smoothness, simplicity, and sonority of a true child song.

The poem, much shorter than its companion poem comprises three stanzas of four lines each. The lines are found to rhyme not evenly as in the sister poem. In fact, a good deal of variations occurs in the poet’s scheme of rhyming. Whereas in the first stanza, the lines rhyme in the couplet, in the second stanza and the third the alternate lines rhyme. Such a variation might have been preferred by the poet to give the poem a little more intricate tone than most of his child songs.

Also read: Theme and Analysis of the poem The Tyger by William Blake