Comparison of Two Versions of “The Chimney Sweeper” By William Blake

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William Blake was a famous poet and illustrator in the 17th century. When William wrote these poems, the social culture of Britain was terrible. Young children in the lower society were being sold on the streets for various jobs. Most were 3 to 5 year olds being sold to clean chimneys.

Many families in the lower class part of Britain were so poor that they would sell their children so that they could support family members.

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In the first poem that William Blake wrote (in 1789) he starts off by trying to make the reader feel sorry and sympathetic for the children. Further on in the first verse William tries to make the reader feel more sympathy for the children, he also tries to shock the reader by making us realise how young the children were.

“…And my father sold me while yet my tongue,

Could scarcely cry weep! Weep! Weep!”

William Blake could not make his points too clear because only the upper class of the English society could read his poems. He hides a message in the next line of his poem.

“So your chimney I sweep, and in soot I sleep.”

By putting ‘your’ in the line it is sending a subtle message to the reader. He was placing the blame on the readers, who would mainly be the rich and upper class of Britain. Therefore it would be their fault for little children, sleeping in soot and risking their lives to clean their chimneys.

In the next verse William sends a great message to the reader that these children that they buy are real people. They are not just children who they can use to clean their chimneys.

“There little Tom Dacre, who cried…”

Just by giving the little boy a name he has made a great impact to the poem already and made it believable detail.

When your read on, William mentions something very effective.

“That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved…”

When William Blake mentioned a lamb, the reader would have pictured a little, innocent lamb. He is insinuating that the child is so innocent and pure, but is being sacrificed as well.

In the final lines of the verse, William puts in a great piece of poetry.

“Hush, Tom! Never mind it, for when your heads bare

you know that the soot can not spoil your white hair.”

William is showing that young children are kind to each other. We wonder why adults cannot be kind to young children.

He also states that the little boy’s hair is white. He chose white because it is a pure colour, Almost angelic.

The next verse, William starts off very peaceful. But as we read on he makes a drastic change to the atmosphere, in the poem.

“And so he was quiet; and that very night

that thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack, were all of them locked up in coffins of black”

William shocks the reader by comparing the chimneys, where the young children work as black coffins. He also added in the verse, how many children where dying in the chimneys. This also shocks the reader. This verse is making a subtle point that the chimneys are killing the young, innocent children.

Then, by changing the mood, William Blake keeps the reader’s attention. This next verse is more pure and happy.

He starts off by talking about going into heaven, life after death.

“And by came on Angel who had a bright key…”

Then William Blake goes on by writing about how the angel set all the children free.

“And he opened the coffin and set them all free…”

Finally in the last two lines of the verse he talks about how much fun the children, would have in heaven. Showing the contrast in how their lives are now when they are alive, to when they are dead, where they will be happy, almost showing the reader what is being taken away from the children’s lives:

“Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run, And wash in a river, and shine in the sun”

William still keeping the same mood as before, makes the children so pure and innocent again.

“then naked and white, all their bags left behind…”

Where it says, “all their bags left behind”. William is trying to say that the young children’s problems will be left behind when they go to heaven.

The he writes a great line, explaining how the child would get to heaven. He makes it sound like the child is floating or flying up there.

“There rise upon clouds and support in the wind…”

Next William Blake, goes on to mention that the children would have a new father, God, Making it even clearer, that the child would have to be dead.

“And the angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy

He’d have God for his father, and never want joy”

Initially, on the final verse, William makes the point clear that the children are not dead they were just dreaming.

“And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark

though the morning

was cold, Tom was happy and warm…”

William is trying to say that because Tom had a dream, which is the only place these children are happy, he was all warm, happy, almost feeling safe again.

But then at the end William, ends the poem by saying, to the richer parents that there is something wrong and they should try and change it.

“So if all do their duty they need not fear harm”

As William Blake got a little more well known he decided to re-write the poem. This time he felt like he could be more direct as more and more people started to feel the same way as he did.

This time William wasn’t putting the blame only onto the upper society. He was also actually putting the blame onto the parents of the children who were being sold.

By this time more people could read and afford his poems, so his point of view was getting across to a range of people no matter if some didn’t agree. There were still others who did.

In the first line of the poem, William Blake is trying to show that the rich parents only think of the young children as a “thing”. Proving that they were worth nothing to the upper class society.

“A little black thing among the snow

crying weep!’ weep! In notes of woe!”

Like the other poem, he shows us how young the child is by telling us that the young boy or girl couldn’t even talk properly.

He carries on to show that even the child’s parents didn’t care about them.

“‘Where are thy father and mother say?’

‘They are both gone up to the church to pray'”

This also says that their parents went to church and left the child outside, in the cold. This is totally different to the other poem, because we are starting to get a grudge against the little child’s parents.

In the next verse William tells us that the little child was once happy.

“Because I was happy upon the heath

And smiled among the winter snow…”

But then, like the other poem, William switches the moods subtly.

“They clothed me in the clothes of death

and taught me to sing the notes of woe.”

When he keeps repeating, “notes of woe”, he is trying to emphasise the point of sadness in the children’s lives.

Unlike the other poem, this poem is making the point a lot clearer. He doesn’t spend as much time trying to keep the audiences attention. He just wants the point to be put across.

By saying that they were clothed in ‘clothes of death’ is almost saying that as soon as the children put those clothes on, that was it. No going back. They would die from trying to clean the chimneys. William, by adding the word death has used a more powerful metaphor than ‘Coffins of black’ in the first poem.

In the final verse of this poem, William Blake tries to cover up the real feelings of the children by mentioning that they are dancing and singing. It immediately makes people think that the little children are normal and happy again.

“And because I am happy and dance and sing…”

In the next line William adds some subtext. He did this a lot on the other poem and this one too. On this example William says “they have”. That is hiding the fact that the state, the parents and church were to blame for the injured boy.

“They think they have done me no injury…”

The final line is great. It says the church and the states create great lives for them selves, at the expense of the little children and poor families:

“…who make up a heaven of our misery.”

My conclusion is that, both poems are great, and both poems get the point across. Although they are both the same, they are also so different in so many ways.

From my point of view I think the first poem is better. It is so cunningly brilliant that many people who read it and were in the upper class didn’t even realise that it was blaming them for what was happening in society at the time. Also although the message was more hidden then the other poem it still got the point across if people really read through it.

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Comparison of Two Versions of “The Chimney Sweeper” By William Blake. (2017, Oct 17). Retrieved from

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