Friday, February 15, 2013

The Chimney Sweeper(s) - William Blake

I was going to copy the whole text so you could read it, but as one of my goals with this blog is to keep the posts short, I think I might just stick it to the end of this post instead...

Suffice it to say that despite its origin in the 'Songs of Innocence' (1789) and the solace he finds in his dream of heaven, the first tale of the chimney sweeper remains a tragic one, and though he may be fooled by the Angel's promise of Heaven, you somehow sense that Blake is not.

We have studied the first poem in class, and I am now handing out the second 'Chimney Sweeper', from 'Songs of Experience' (1794) for them to analyze on their own.

Songs of Innocence
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved: so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet; and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, -
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.
Songs of Experience
A little black thing among the snow,
Crying "'weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!
"Where are thy father and mother? Say!"--
"They are both gone up to the church to pray.

"Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smiled among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

"And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his priest and king,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."

No hope of heaven whatsoever, here, even illusory..!

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