I will be diving deeper behind the words in the poem ‘Chimney Sweeper’. The power of poetry lies between words, as it “makes us realise and appreciate the world around us” (Osborne, 2016). ‘Chimney Sweeper’, written in 1974 by William Blake, a biblical poet and painter who aimed to change social norms and status quos, composed a series of verses containing profound social commentaries. William Blake was extremely successful in conveying the themes; hope, death and woe. Additionally, it teaches us to approach each adversity with hope. The ideologies were portrayed through careful selection of discerning diction like symbolism, metaphors and effective use of powerful imagery. This problem regarding child labour not only remained in the eighteenth century, but it also remains relevancy today, as this can be seen in factories and mines in less developed countries, such as; Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia.
Now let’s now talk about symbolism, it’s evidently illustrated in several stanzas that help portray emotions and messages about children’s visions and experiences. During the second stanza, we come across to line 2, where it states that a little boy (Tom Dacre) ‘curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved’, this is an evident example where it incorporates the use of symbolism. As we know, a lamb depicted in a Bible is usually an association with the terminologies; innocent and youth, notwithstanding, a lamb is an also a connotation for being a vulnerable sacrifice to acts of malevolence, hence, proving that symbolism was effective in describing the realities of children. Moreover, Blake efficaciously used historical links to add credibility to his portrayal of children, by being ‘shaved’ recounts actions taken so hair couldn’t be burnt off or have vermin and soot infestations. Thus, showing the underlying themes of misery. Following the stanza, it becomes apparent that the narrator, a boy, goes into a dream, where he describes it as ‘a green plain’, this infers to a land where there’s freedom and fertility, something that all the children wishes to have. This is a juxtaposition of reality verses their hopes and wishes, in their normal world, it’s monochromatic and filled with boys who cry because of their current living conditions. With all these symbolic inferences, they all successfully combine to convey the main themes of misery and oppression that young boys carry through their lives. Also relating back to the thesis, it encourages them to be hopeful and will get freedom in return if they work hard enough.
William Blake encompasses diction in order to communicate with audience members to gain sympathy and exploit the social unjust through songs of social protests. Even the title lays the initial hidden themes, ‘Chimney Sweeper’ is an effective way to phrase an entire workforce of children, in fact, ‘thousands of sweepers’. The narrator places himself as a representative of all. The play of assonance begins to lay out the foundation of the theme, as his interpretation of the undeveloped speech of children can be heard as ‘weep, weep’ as they are so young that they can’t even pronounce sweep. This evokes awareness and sensory abilities so the audience can relate and comprehend whilst adding more context into his poem. It’s evident that William Blake takes his inspirations from the bible and platonic philosophies. To elaborate, the quote ‘wash in a river’ is from the revelation 1:18 and is interpreted as a sign of purification and healing. Additionally, ‘he’d have God for his father’ links to the holy connection and shows that God is the father figure of the narrator to fulfil the empty position his father left. It’s apparent that through biblical references and diction, William Blake effectively depicts the themes of hope and asserts how imagery plays to depict the thoughts and wishes of children.
On the note of hope, the narrator uses imagery to take us through his dream of being liberated, carefree and childish. As imagery plays in, it’s illustrated with the words ‘naked and white’ and ‘their bags left behind’, this could be interpreted as being cleansed after their wash in the river, free of soot and being white, which is leaving behind the blackness they are surrounded in real life. The imagery of ‘rising upon clouds’ signifies the boundaries of the boy’s breaking free and rise in the social classes. Similarly, the phrase ‘we rose in the dark’ has two meanings, both literal and metaphorical. It can refer to rising despite the darkness of their life or rising after his dream. Either way, both works to put a clear image into our heads of children slowly accepting their fate yet approaching adversity full of hope and faith, which is one of the central themes.
‘Chimney Sweeper’ by William Blake was successful in portraying the degradation of children and themes of misery, hope and woe by effective use of symbolism, imagery and metaphors. Furthermore, it reminds us, especially to those who still continue to experience child labour over the world to always maintain faith. Now this concludes today’s segment of Literature round table, thanks for listening and we’ll catch you later on our next series ‘Still I rise”. Until then, see you later!