The poem, "The chimney sweeper" was published in two parts,
songs of innocence and songs of experience in the year 1789 and 1794 respectively. This poem depicts the miseries of children, those who were sold as chimney sweepers at a young age by their parents. It happened prominently in England during the late 18th and 19th centuries. William Blake was outraged by the ill-treatment of those innocent children and wrote this poem as a sign of protest.
( Songs of innocence)
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.
There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved, so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."
And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.
Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father & never want joy.
And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.
(Songs of Experience)
A little black thing among the snow,
Crying "weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!
"Where are thy father and mother? say?"
"They are both gone up to the church to pray.
Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smil'd among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.
And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."
(Songs of innocence)
The boy himself narrates the poem. He lost his mother when he was a child, and his father sold him to do chimney sweeping, even before he knew how to speak. So, he swept the chimney and slept on the dust. One day, a new boy named Tom Dacre came there. The boy cried because they cut off his lovely white hair. He tried to console himself by telling him that it is better to cut his hair off than to ruin it with dust. Then he became silent.
That very night, he had a dream. In his dream, thousands of chimney sweepers were locked up in the coffins of darkness. An angel came with a bright key and unlocked the coffins to set them free. Then they jumped and run over the plain, they washed in the river and shined in the sun. Now being naked, clean and without their tool bag, they rose to the clouds and played in the wind. The angel told Tom to be a good boy so that God will take care of him and make him happy. The dream ends up here.
Tom woke up before dawn with a warm smile and got ready with bags and brushes for his work. Though it's freezing outside, he seems happy and warm. The boy concludes this poem by telling us that we will not have to be worried about anything if we do our duty properly.
(Songs of Experience)
There was a little black thing among the snow, crying in sadness and pain. It was a small child. Someone asked about his parents. He replied that they went to the church. And he continued that, as he played in the fields and snow happily, they punished him and ruined his happiness at this young age and made him sing the song of sadness. They thought they had done everything perfectly by seeing his joyful dance and songs. But it's not said so. He said, they went to praise the god, priest, and king, who were all the reason for the sufferings of boys like me.
Bloom, Harold. 2006: William Blake. Philadelphia: Chelsea House publishers.
Blake, William. 1982: The complete poetry and prose of William Blake. Anchor books.
Blake, William, Ellis, and John, Edwin. 1906: The poetical works of William Blake. London: Chatto & Windus.