The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)
by William Blake
Stanza 2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved: […]
- Let's shift gears, shall we? Enough about this speaker. Let's learn about his buddy, fellow chimney sweeper Tom Dacre.
- Poor little Tom Dacre cried when his head was shaved. His head was curled like a lamb's back. In other words, the kid had curly hair, like lamb's wool.
- Thanks for the simile, Blake! It's a fitting comparison, too, when you consider the fact that lambs are innocent, young animals. These kids are young and innocent, too. Or at least they should be.
- So why was Tom Dacre's head shaved? Was this to prevent soot from getting all over his hair? Just to be mean?
- Let's find out.
[…] so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."
- The speaker tells us what he said to Tom after his head was shaved. He told Tom to be quiet and not worry about it. Maybe he'll be glad he has a shaved head.
- Why? Well, because according to our speaker, having a shaved head means Tom's hair won't get messed up by all that nasty soot. So, in order to have good hair, he has to have no hair?
- What little children have "white hair"? Does the speaker mean blond? Or is he trying to contrast something about the child with the blackness of the soot?
- It could be a little bit of both. After all, when you factor in Blake's diction here, the lines take on a deeper meaning.
- The soot would spoil Tom's white hair. That means something black and dark would sully, mess up, and corrupt something white—something innocent.