William Blake, known for his renowned work during the Romantic era, earned a spot as one of the best known poets in the English language. Having had many spiritual visions, William Blake was inspired to incorporate his visions into his work. Among his works lie Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience which exemplify different states of the human soul.
In his work The Chimney Sweeper, he uses the depiction of two small boys who are occupied with chimney sweeping to embody the human inclination towards having hope and the human inclination towards giving up. Child labor was especially common during this time as many parents were obliged to sell their children into child labor, particularly chimney sweeping. Two chimney sweepers are the subjects of both of Blake’s poems.
A young boy named Tom Dacre is the subject in “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence. In complete harmony with nature and God, Songs of innocence set out on imaginative vision of the state of innocence. In part one of the Chimney Sweeper, the tone is hopeful though it illustrates a boy who spends his lifetime chimney sweeping. During this oppression, he holds on to hope as his innocence makes him unaware of the cruel conditions he is actually living.
Having had no experience other than the life he lives as a sweeper, he holds on to hope not only for himself but for all other chimney sweepers. The poetic pun used when the child cries “Weep, weep, weep” draws a similarity to the words sweep, sweep, sweep accentuating the innocence of his mindset. He is unable to comprehend the world he lives in and therefore holds on to hope as he sees angels that eventually come to rescue him. The angel’s visit to Tom causes the poem to end in with a sound of hope.
In contrast, the boy in Songs of Experience- The Chimney Sweeper, is completely aware of his surroundings and so displays a jaded attitude towards his circumstance. Instead of using religion as a comfort, he belittles the idea as he refers to it as false hope meanwhile attacking those who follow it.
Songs of experience show how life challenges, corrupts and destroy it. He knows what it’s like to have suffered and since it is all he knows in, he believes that there is no hope. When he cries “Weep, weep, weep” he cries in the “notes of woe” which can be deciphered into the “notes of a curse” making him completely aware that he was destined to suffer. This poem ends with the narrator claiming that one cannot even look to the heavens for hope. Not even “God and his Priest and King” can be turned to for help.
In comparison, both poems exert the poetic device of imagery. One boy is described to be dressed in soot; covered in black due to the smoke of the chimney. Imagery is also used when it comes to the usage of names. In the Songs of Innocence poem, names such as Tom, Dick, and Joe are used because the boy has learned to make friends in the business of struggle. This helps the child seem as if he doesn’t view chimney sweeping as terrible of a job as does the second child. In the Songs of Experience poem, names were not mentioned giving the idea that this child sweeper doesn’t view the job as hanging with his friends. His job was more of an imprisonment than anything else.
In synthesis, though these poems vaguely portray what it is to have hope and not have hope, the idea of the poems show the archetypal vision of human life – ‘Innocence’ and ‘Experience’. These can have drastic effects on how humans view their situations and circumstances. Lack of experience, or knowledge may mean to be ignorant towards what is going on as was the boy in Songs of innocence. This is where the saying “Ignorance is bliss” takes effect. Having this ignorance kept him motivated and happy during his oppression whereas somebody with life experience would have opted in giving up being that they know what it is like to continually suffer and have no solution.