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.
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.
"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.