Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
"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.
- This little chimney sweeper doesn't stop there. Actually, he's quite the talker. Now he's going to tell us his whole story.
- Because he was happy, smiled a lot, and had fun in the great outdoors, his parents dressed him up in clothes of death and taught him to sing sad notes.
- Okay, so this isn't quite literal, right? We mean, what are clothes of death? That's gotta be a metaphor for something.
- Does this refer to a chimney sweeper's uniform? An outfit one might wear in a coffin? The two, for Blake, are synonymous (because chimney sweeping was dangerous, led to the death of one's childhood, etc.).
- Did the parents literally teach their child to "sing the notes of woe"? Probably not. This is also a metaphor for the way his parents forced him into this terrible job. And that terrible job has made him cry, so in a way, his parents are responsible for his woe.
- There are some interesting causal relationships going on here, aren't there? Apparently this kid's parents made him miserable by forcing him into this chimney sweeping job because he was so happy. What's up with that?
- There are two ways to read this: (1) His parents thought something along the lines of, oh, our boy's doing fine, so why don't we put him to work? Or (2) Our boy is just too happy. Let's give him a rough job to toughen him up a bit.
- Either way, it doesn't sound like the best parenting in the world. This mother-father duo is responsible for their son's suffering.
- And finally, we've got some more rhymes going on here. Only now instead of rhyming couplets, we've got an alternating rhyme scheme of ABAB. Heath rhymes with death (well, close enough), and snow once again rhymes with woe.