Explorations of Childhood and Duty in “The Chimney Sweeper” and “Casabianca”

1786 WordsJun 25, 20188 Pages
Although Blake wrote “The Chimney Sweeper” featured in Songs of Innocence before Felicia Hemans was ever born, issues relevant to first-generation Romantic authors still pervaded the literary scene when second-generation authors like Hemans finally took the stage. “Casabianca,” published in 1826, and “The Chimney Sweeper,” published in 1789, both address a central question: What does it mean to be a child? Both poems examine the duties that children have to society as a whole. While there is an overriding sense of an allegiance to duty in both poems, the poems’ situational irony complicates the relationship between children and responsibility. The final line of “The Chimney Sweeper” best demonstrates this complicated relationship.…show more content…
The poem’s two perspectives compliment each other and illuminate a viewpoint that is not accessible from each poem on its own. The third person narrator of “Casabianca” helps to glorify Young Casabianca’s sacrifices in way that would not be possible if the story were told from his perspective. For example, in line 5 the speaker contrasts Casabianca with the chaos happening around him: Yet beautiful and bright he stood As born to rule the storm; A creature of heroic blood, A proud, though childlike form. (5-8) This quatrain characterizes Casabianca as a hero, but it also complicates his heroism as well. Out of context, the first three lines of the stanza are a more fitting description of an adult figure than the child figure that they are actually describing; however, Hemans reiterates that Casabianca is merely “A proud, though childlike form” (8) in the last line of the stanza. It is his devotion to duty, Hemans suggests, that transforms him into an adult-like hero. The caesura in this line fuels the conflicting feelings that arise from reading the poem. On one hand, Hemans is glorifying Young Casabianca for his heroic allegiance to his father’s orders. On the other, however, the contrast of adult-like descriptions with the child’s character suggests that Hemans may be suggesting that children not be denied their childhood by their obligation to duty. She obviously believes

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