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The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake

Updated: Jan 12, 2020

WARNING: This is not an episode for people who cannot handle the reality of the decisions that people had to make during the early years of the industrial revolution.

On this episode I give you a history lesson on life during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, including a history of chimney sweepers.

Blake's poem can be seen simply as a tale of a young chimney sweeper who has a vision about an angel setting him and his friends free, and it can be seen as an indictment of the way we indoctrinate children.

Few poets have the ability to infuse the most simple poetry with a subtle power that can effect real change in the minds of individuals.


From the Songs of Innocence:

The Chimney Sweeper


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.


From The Songs of Experience:

The Chimney Sweeper


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."



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