William Blake

Time to do something else a little different! In 1789, William Blake, a romantic, published a poetry compilation called Songs of Innocence; in it were poems like today’s “The Chimney Sweeper (When my mother died…)” and “Holy Thursday.”

In 1794, he republished Songs of Innocence, with additional poems tacked on, calling it Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. Let me tell you, Romantics loved their long titles.

Some of the new poems of Songs of Experience had the same name as the others, including today’s “The Chimney Sweeper (A little black thing…”-that’s right, today we’re looking at two poems:

chimney-sweep-when-my-mother-died

So that was poem A…

chimney-sweep-little-black-thing

And poem B! If this format doesn’t work for you, you can also read them at the links I’ve provided above.

The subject, an under-10-year-old chimney sweep, remains the same, as does the “‘weep! ‘weep!” refrain (which is meant to, in the first poem, echo a small child’s inability to say “sweep,” but in the second clearly resembles the verb weep, to cry).

The similarities end there, though; the first indication is the speaker-in the first, it is another youthful chimney sweep one that seems to accept his lot as with the lines “when your head’s bare/You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.” The second is a much more mature speaker that hears “notes of woe” and asks where the child’s parents are; this one has both parents living and yet was still sold to be a sweep.

The second is also distinctly anti-God, whereas the former views God and religion as a source of happiness after life. The latter calls it a “heaven of our misery.” The brunt of the blame is on the second’s parents, of course, but he finds no solace in heaven either.

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