A Sobering Tale of Childhood Exploitation: The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake
William Blake was an English poet and painter born in 1757 in London, England. His poetry often dealt with the pains of life, whether emotional, physical or mental, and his poem The Chimney Sweeper (also known as The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy) is no exception. The message of the poem revolves around the harsh conditions faced by children in 18th century Britain who worked as chimney sweepers.
Themes and Symbols
This poem is about a boy who is employed as a chimney sweeper. He spends all day, every day, climbing up and down the flues of chimneys, sweeping them clean. His job is dangerous and he often falls from the roof into the fire. He has to work so hard that he forgets his own name. It’s not until he has an accident at work (a fall from the roof) that he remembers his true identity.
Imagery and Wordplay
The poem, The Chimney Sweeper, is told from the perspective of an old chimney sweep looking back on his life. He has become a wretched and decrepit man, and he reflects with bitterness on his days as a young boy when he would climb up chimneys to clean them. His job was considered one of the most dangerous at the time because it involved climbing high above ground where many children lost their lives to accidents.
Form and Structure
William Blake’s The Chimney Sweeper is a poem that tells the story of a chimney sweeper who cleans chimneys to make money. With the help of an old man, he climbs up and down chimneys. At one point, the boy falls into one and has to climb out over hot coals. He cries for his mom but she does not hear him. He finally makes it out with his clothes in tatters and burns all over him. He thinks about how much worse it would have been if he had died.
In 1789, the British Parliament passed an act to ban the employment of children under the age of eight. Despite this, many child chimneysweeps were still working in England during the 1800s.
The Chimney Sweeper is a poem about the harsh reality of children’s lives in the 18th century. Written in 1789, it recounts an encounter with a chimney sweep who is so young he cannot even remember his name. In the poem, the narrator first encounters this boy when he sees him struggling to climb a tree to escape some other boys tormenting him.