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The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Experience)

The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Experience)


by William Blake

Analysis: Sound Check

"The Chimney Sweeper" is half childlike nursery rhyme and half nightmare. Strange combo, right? We've got those perfect, neat little rhymes and the sing-songy rhythm. But then we've got the subject matter, which criticizes parents, religion, and government, for their exploitation of child labor.

Phew. That's enough to set any mind reeling. And maybe that's the point. The sounds of this poem straight up don't match its subject matter. So what's the deal, then? How are we to make sense of it?

Our hunch is that we're not. Blake just might be cleverer than we give him credit for. By writing about such heavy stuff in such a light tone, he reminds us of how the parents and the church see this chimney-sweeping kid.

They assume that because he dances and sings, he's a-okay toiling in chimneys day in and day out. But if they were paying attention to what he's singing—notes of woe, to be exact—they might start singing a different tune themselves.

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