William Blake Poetry Analysis: “The Chimney Sweeper”

Poetry interpretation can be a challenge. This analysis of “The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake should help.

 Blake wrote two “Chimney Sweeper” poems–one for Songs of Innocence and one for Songs of Experience. We’ll begin analyzing “The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake from Songs of Innocence.

Songs of Innocence: “The Chimney Sweeper” Analysis

From 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.

  1. Rhyme Scheme = aabb and contains near rhyme in stanzas four and five, drawing attention to wind, a symbol of freedom, and work, the means to access it. The use of rhyming couplets resembles that of a nursery rhyme.
  2. Meter – most lines contain five metrical feet with varying stress patterns. The last two lines contain six metrical feet and contain the poem’s theme–hard work will bring you to heaven.
  3. Lines 5 and 6 contain a simile comparing Tom Dacre’s hair to lambs wool. Lamb is a symbol of innocence. Line 8 contains a contrast of white hair (angelic) and soot (sin). Note that the soot cannot spoil the hair.
  4. The fourth stanza mentions the unlocking of coffins by an angel and being washed clean in a river. These are Christian allusions to Christ’s resurrection and baptism. The beginning of the fifth stanza mentions the boys in the dream were “naked and white, all their bags left behind.” Naked and white suggests innocence and purity. Baggage denotes sin and the cares of the world.
  5. The last stanza shows the effects on Tom. He no longer dreads his job as chimney sweeper, but looks forward to hard work, a necessary part of life, a part he will leave behind when he dies.
  6. Theme: Some day all of life’s care will be left behind. In the meantime work hard and everything will be just fine.

Songs of Experience: “The Chimney Sweeper”

From 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 smil’d 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.’

  1. Rhyme Scheme = abab abab abab
  2. The first line of the poem contains a contrast within itself and a contrast with the version of the poem in Songs of Innocence. In Songs of Innocence, the dirt could not hurt the innocent child. In Songs of Experience, the “little black thing” is the focal point. The chimney sweeper cries “notes of woe,” a contrast to “scarcely crying weep! weep! weep! weep!”
  3. The first stanza contains the following contrast: the chimney sweeper is working and covered in soot while mother and father have gone to church to pray. The chimney sweeper symbolizes the plight of England’s children (chimney sweeper was a horrible job done by children because they were small enough to fit in the chimney and clean it). Fathers and mothers symbolizes those responsible for taking care of children, be it the church, the king, or adults in general.
  4. The second stanza is a metaphor for taking a child from innocence “happy upon the heath” to a life of misery, “clothes of death.” He’s gone from “winters snow” to “notes of woe.”
  5. The third stanza denounces the hypocrisy of the upper classes for praising “God & Priest & King” while ruining the lives of children.
  6. Theme – Those who allow children to live as miserable chimney sweepers are nothing more than hypocrites.

Further Reading


If you would like step-by-step instructions on how to do a poetry analysis, follow the link. If you’re looking for more British Romantic poems, scroll down about two inches.

British Romantic Poetry Study Guide

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