William Blake`s “The Chimney Sweeper”

DIRECTIONS: First, read over the Background material. Then, read “The Chimney Sweeper” from Blake’s
Song of Innocence on p. 683 of your textbook, followed by the Songs of Experience version below. Finally,
answer the questions independently and thoughtfully on a separate sheet of paper.
“The Chimney Sweeper” (Songs of Experience)
In 18th-century England, many dwellings had
large chimneys that would periodically become
lined with soot and require cleaning by
professional chimney sweepers. Their chief
method for cleaning the narrow portions of the
chimneys was to send small boys—as young as
four or five, even—into the flue to brush away
the soot by hand. Many of these young boys
were taken from orphanages and forced into
this dirty, dangerous business. Some poor
parents were so desperate for money that they
sold their children to “sweep masters” who
managed crews of sweepers.
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 made up a heaven of our misery.’
1. How does each speaker become a chimney sweep?
2. What do these poems suggest about the life of a chimney sweep?
3. How does the speaker in the “innocence” version interpret Tom Dacre’s dream?
4. Explain Blake’s intended effect for the final line of the “innocence” version.
5. The “experience” version incorporates two speakers: lines 1-3 and lines 4-12. Describe each one.
6. Paraphrase the last two lines of the “experience” version.
7. Identify and explain at least one example of symbolism from each poem.
8. Compare and contrast the tone (speaker’s attitude) in each poem.