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The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)

The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)


by William Blake

Chimney Sweeper

Symbol Analysis

In a poem called "The Chimney Sweeper" we expect to meet a sweeper. In fact, we meet several (at least five) specific ones, thousands of other nameless ones, and we also get a pretty close look at their lives and the stuff of their work—brushes, bags, soot. All of these things represent burdens that children should not have to bear, and the poem makes no secret of this opinion.

  • Line 4: The speaker says he sweeps chimneys and sleeps in soot. To sleep in soot is both literal (the speaker is dirty at the end of the day) and metaphorical. His life revolves around chimneys, to the point that he "sleeps" in soot. 
  • Lines 5-6: Tom's head was shaved. His hair used to be like a lamb's. Comparing something using the word "like" is called a simile. The lamb is here a symbol of youth and innocence.
  • Lines 7-8: The speaker comforts Tom by telling him that, since he doesn't have hair, it (his hair) won't get ruined by the soot from chimneys.
  • Lines 11-12: Tom sees his fellow sweepers in black coffins. The coffins suggest that the children are already dead. 
  • Lines 15-16: The chimney sweepers wash in the river and play in the grass.
  • Lines 17-18: The children abandon their bags. The bags that carry their chimney-sweeping equipment are standing in for the chimney-sweeping profession as a whole. This is called metonymy.
  • Lines 21-22: The children get up in the dark and go to work. While "dark" refers to the time of day, it is also a metaphor for the "dark" and miserable lives the children lead.

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