An argumentative claim about The Chimney Sweeper-William Blake:
Man’s attitude towards Nature during the last 3-4 centuries is one of wickedness. He acts towards the benevolent Nature as if it is one’s sworn enemy and the humanity should remain at a permanent war with the varied forces of Nature. Conquest is the word often used to describe this tendency of the human beings. “Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer.
”(Schumacher, 1977, p.11) The Nature is silent but it is powerful and man’s vindictive attitude towards it is bound to recoil on him adversely. Man has begun to realize that he has already been driven to the losing side, and if he doesn’t’ listen to the wake-up call, and unless something tangible is done in this regard, Planet Earth is heading for a disaster. Shifting problems is just like creating one problem to solve the other.
Poets ravel in the world of sentiments, but they are realists as well! The vitiating trends in the rhythm and beauty of human life disturb the poetic hearts intensely. Can their expressed agony help the sociologists, health experts and the political powers that rule the destiny of humanity to think constructively? Can a permanent solution be found through the reformation process of their mind-sets? In the poem, “The Chimney Sweeper,” William Blake brings to the fore his seething suffering at the ‘destruction’ of the atmospheric beauty of the city of London. How a series of negative effects engulf the society and irreparably damage the standard of living and the standard of life (the quality of life) of the people and how the people become the helpless pawns in this chess game played by the vested interests. How the people suffer in the confusing web of circumstances over which are powerless to exercise control!
The narrator visualizes the terrible living conditions of the poor people of London. A short sojourn is sufficient to pierce his heart. He is deeply affected by the child labor, the restrictive property laws and above all, the worst thing than can happen to the moral standards of the society—the prostitution! What the speaker fears most is the after-effects and suffering related to the sexually transmitted diseases. Men and women in such a society will live in mortal fear as to what can happen to their health. If the husband is wicked and becomes the carrier of such a disease, the chaste wife has to suffer for no fault of hers and vice-versa. The narrator paints a gloomy picture of the society due to the prevalence of ill-boding laws relating to property ownership. He asserts symbolically, “charter’d Thames,” which is the tragic reflection to the prevailing conditions in various facets of life in London—even the river water is rationed! This is the sarcastic and symbolic reference to the then prevailing level of freedom of the individuals. When disrespect is shown to the power of Nature, freedom of humanity in the real sense is in peril! “Blake’s poem also criticizes religion. The speaker draws attention to the cry of the chimney sweeper and the blackening of church walls, implying that the Church as an institution is inactive, unwilling to help those in need.”(William…)
The four stanzas in the poem refer to different aspects of life in the city of London. They are like the shots snapped by an expert photographer. The poem is biblical and seems to prophesize. Here the narrator indicates that ‘the coming events cast their shadow before.’ Unless something tangible is done in this regard, to arrest the evil trends, the poet opines that the humanity is heading for a spiritual disaster and moral doom. Presently he bases his premises taking into consideration the prevailing state of affairs in the city of London.
The poor economic conditions and the polluted environment, have deep negative impacts on the thinking process of the human being. Overawed by the hopeless situation one becomes dispirited and disillusioned. Inspiration ebbs out from his activities and one’s life goes on in a routine manner, as it has to go on. Such a level of life has the telling effect on one’s health. Overall, the poem creates a gloomy picture about life with many negative expressions, like, fear, blood, blights, hearse, plagues, we, cry, fear, weakness and ‘appals’, to mention the few.
The ending two words of the poem are ‘marriage hearse.’ These create a horrible picture in the curtain of the mind of the reader. The effect is appalling as well as disgusting. The happy tidings that are supposed to go with the word ‘marriage’ come to an abrupt and ghastly end with the association of the word ‘hearse’ along with it. Hearse is the carrier of the dead and decaying human body and indicates the funeral march to the grave, in which every face expresses sadness and melancholy.
The overall picture painted by the Blake’s speaker is one of total decay, viewed from any angle-physical, moral and spiritual. This as well can be compared to the demonic state of affairs and the rule of the Satan. In his Kingdom, no one can expect happy tidings. He is there to destroy and create chaos in the individual lives. He is bent upon to set afire the inner world of human beings. He ravels in annihilation and destruction. The speaker has an effective dig at the religion that does not care for the welfare of the downtrodden. When curry for the night is the worry for the morning, when tomorrow’s bread is not assured from today’s labor, any man will become cynical and think that human beings are all ignoble. He means that when he emotionally declares that the money spent in renovation and beautification of the churches is pointless while the children, who are supposed to be the abode of innocence and immortal bliss within them, suffer physically to clean the soot that blackens the church walls. The foundation stone of the Christian religion is love, and is the way to practice love? Physically and mentally blackmail the children with hard and arduous labor when it is time for them to play and enjoy?—questions Blake’s narrator.
The narrator gives the stern message to those who have the reigns of power in their hands to govern the society in an equitable manner. Refer the expression ‘blood down Palace walls,’—that is to remind the readers as to the tragic happenings during the French revolution. Unless you empower the people and take care of their basic needs, they will strike back. Matters go out of control and along with the wicked, many innocents to suffer heavily, and may have to pay with their lives.
Economic development that has lost contact with the ordinary people is no development. Any progress must give due regard to the initiative and drive of the common man. His intelligence and enthusiasm needs to be respected and given the deserved encouragement. Blake sees rapid urbanization as a dangerous negative force. Childhood is the best part of the life of an individual. If that is denied and they are forced to work in dangerous conditions, the end-results will be devastatingly negative. “The Chimney Sweeper,” … appeared in Songs of Innocence in 1789, the year of the outbreak of the French Revolution, and expresses Blake’s revolutionary fervor.” (Poems of ….) If the inner world of the human being is continuously pounded by the social evils and one is hopelessly corned, and one retains no will power to fight back, that situation is the worst that can happen to a society. No amount of the economic growth can compensate this gigantic loss.
Schumacher, E. F: Book: Small is beautiful.
Publisher: Blond & Briggs Ltd., London, 1977
Poems Of William Blake by William Blake: Songs of Innocents –
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