Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And so he was quiet; and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight—
- More on Tom.
- Apparently, the night after the speaker tried to comfort poor, bald little Tommy, he had a strange dream, or sight. Or is it a vision?
- Other than give us some basic info, these lines are doing much poetic pirouetting. Their simple language and perfect rhymes give us just the facts, ma'am (or sir).
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.
- Tom saw thousands of sweepers "locked up" in black coffins, and at least a few of them were named Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack.
- Yeah, real original, Blake. Couldn't you come up with some more exciting names, like MacGyver, or Rambo?
- We're thinking these names might be a bit boring for a reason. They're generic, stock and standard names. There has got to be a billion Jacks in the world, don't you think? So by choosing these names, the speaker is emphasizing just how many of these poor chimney sweepers there are in the world. Each chimney sweeper is like an everyman. Or everyboy, we guess.
- The phrase "were all of them" is a bit strange. Normally we would say "that thousands of sweepers…were all." The wonky word order makes it seem kind of like a kid is talking, and it also helps Blake keep up the sing-songy, childlike rhythm that he established earlier in the poem.
- Okay, now let's turn to the image of these black coffins in which Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack are locked up. Why are the coffins black?
- Who knows. But it probably has something to do with soot, right? After all, that's the only black thing we've seen so far in the poem.
- So in the dream/vision, Tom is seeing these little tykes quite literally shut up in black coffins, but we readers associate those black coffins with the soot in which these poor young chimney sweepers sleep.
- In that case, we might think of these coffins as metaphors for the chimney sweepers' current state of affairs. They're already boxed up in black chimneys. Why not black coffins next?
- Did we mention this poem is kind of a bummer?