They clothed me in the clothes of death
And taught me to sing the notes of woe. (Lines 6-7)
This is the cry of anger and despair from the young chimney sweeper in Willian Blake’s song The Chimney Sweeper, extracted from his Songs of Experience. The lad expresses here his bitter indictment at his parents who have put him to hard and hazardous drudgery as a chimney sweep.
The selfish and callous parents of the chimney sweep sent him to work at chimneys for their own gains out of his earning. As they found him gay and sportive in the open field, they grew jealous and made out a scheme to have their own selfish gain out of his trouble and toil. So he had been turned into a chimney sweeper with his body all covered in black soot. He sings now the song of sorrow as he works in the tall sooty chimneys.
The expression ‘clothes of death’ sharply signifies the thick covering of the soot that appears to be a clothing of death, deemed as dark always. Of course, this poem is bitter and ironic in tone and presents rather the state of experience. It has nothing of faith and joy in innocent childhood, amid hardship and suffering, of other poems.