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The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Experience)

The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Experience)

by William Blake

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

A little black thing among the snow,
Crying "'weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!

  • Okay, okay, so this isn't exactly a sentence. Still, we can work with it. These lines seem to be an observation.
  • The speaker sees a little black thing in the snow. And that little black thing is sadly crying "'weep! 'weep!"
  • That's all well and good, but what in the world is this little black thing? A person? An animal? We're gonna go ahead and guess that it's the subject (and title) of the poem—a chimney sweeper.
  • That also means that this little black thing is a young boy, because in Blake's day, that's who swept chimneys.
  • The fact that this little guy is referred to as a thing is telling. The speaker doesn't even see him as a person. Harsh.
  • The chimney sweeper probably looks black because he's covered in soot.
  • There are more than a few things we can notice about these lines, poetically speaking.
  • First, there's the stark contrast between the soot-covered boy and the pure white snow he's sitting in. That's quite an image.
  • Then there's the rhyme—snow and woe. That's a perfect rhyme, nice and neat, and since these two lines go together, we call this a rhyming couplet.
  • Notice anything else? Of course you do: the meter. It goes a little something like this: daDUM dadaDUM daDUM daDUM. Be sure to head on over to "Form and Meter" for more on this lilting rhythm.

Lines 3-4

"Where are thy father and mother? Say!"--
"They are both gone up to the church to pray.

  • Instead of leaving the poor kid alone, the speaker asks him a question. He seems a bit concerned for the little guy, because he wants to know where his parents are.
  • But he's also more than a little abrupt. He practically demands the kid tell him what's up ("Say!")
  • The chimney sweeper says that his parents have gone to church.
  • And there's that perfect rhyme again. Say and way. Look out for this pattern of rhymes to continue—or be broken.

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