The Chimney Sweeper By William Blake

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William Blake published “The Chimney Sweeper” in 1789 in the first phase of his collection of poems entitled “Songs of Innocence”. A later poem under the same name was published five years later in his follow up collection, “Songs of Experience”. The chimney sweeper’s tale begins in Songs of Innocence with the introduction of a young boy who was sold by his father after the death of his mother; the poem then shifts in the next stanza to describe the speaker’s friend Tom Dacre, another chimney sweeper. Tom is a despondent recruit to the profession, and struggles at first with having to cut off his white hair. The speaker comforts him by explaining that the soot would only soil his light hair anyway, and shortly afterward he falls asleep. The poem describes Tom’s dream at length, wherein he sees other chimney sweepers being taken from caskets by an angel and carried to heaven; there they dance naked in carefree bliss. When Tom awakes, he is reassured and comes to the conclusion that he too can be carefree so long as he does his duty. The later poem in “Songs of Experience” leaves Tom and his friend behind, switching instead to the perspective of an adult who finds a child chimney sweeper abandoned in the snow. The child explains that he was left there by his parents, who had gone to church; it is unclear whether his parents have died.

While the second Chimney Sweeper poem in Songs of Experience could be seen as an essential follow up to the first, it is worth exploring
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