The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)
by William Blake
The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence) Theme of Death
Chimney-sweeping was a dirty business, and those kids suffered a ton. Abuse, cancer, early death—you name it, they faced it. So it makes sense that a poem called "The Chimney Sweeper" would face death in some way. It does so in Tom's dream, in which the little guy sees his fellow sweepers in coffins. This might remind us that these kids face an early death, but it also shows us that in many ways, they're dead already; they've lost their childhood, their freedom, and their innocence. According to Blake, the chimney-sweeping life is no life at all.
Questions About Death
- Do you think the coffins are symbols of these kid's eventual deaths? Or of their current life? Can they be both?
- Do the children in the poem seem aware that they might be facing death any day now? Or do they just keep on keepin' on, totally oblivious?
- What do you make of the angel freeing these kids from their coffins in Tom's dreams? Are we supposed to understand that for these kids, the only way out is a one-way trip to heaven, if you know what we mean?
Chew on This
The death these kids face is both literal and figurative. They'll likely die early because of their dangerous job, but they have already died in the sense that they've lost their childhood and innocence.
When the angel frees the boys from their coffins, it's meant to show that death is the only way out of this chimney-sweeping life.