What is a detailed summary of the poem "The Chimney Sweeper"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Chimney Sweeper," the speaker relates that after his mother's death, he was sold by his father to be a chimney sweeper when he was so small he could scarely say the word sweep.  In the 18th century in England small boys, sometimes no more than four or five worked, climbing the narrow chimeny flues to clean them, collecting the soot into bags.  Having to breathe this soot and often becoming deformed from the narrow flues, the boys were subjected to terrible conditions and often were treated miserably by their masters.

Yet, in spite of these conditions, the speaker's attitude seems positive as he tells little Tom Dacre not to worry about his shorn hair because now the "soot cannot spoil [it]."  Tom becomes "quiet," perhaps repressing his worry.  He dreams of the other sweepers in black coffins.  Then, an "Angel who had a bright key" releases them into the clean beauty of Nature where he has "God for his father," and never suffer from unhappiness.

In the last line speaker says, "So if all do their duty they need not fear harm."  However, here the attitudes of the speaker and the poet greatly differ. This discrepancy is  termed dramatic irony; Blake comments on the deadly job of the boys.  The dream can be interpreted allegorically with the "coffins" being the flues since they were the cause of disease, deformity, and even death, which is the only escape from this horrible employment.  One only escapes "harm" by dying--when the Angel with the bright key releases him.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Which one?  Blake wrote a series of poems which fell under the categories of Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  Most have counterparts--The Lamb is in the Innocence category, The Tiger is in the Experience category.  For Blake's The Chimney Sweeper, there are two--one for each category.  In the Songs of Innocence Chimney Sweeper, the images are of hope and helping fellow chimney sweeps deal with shaved heads and other causes of sorrow.  There are images of angels coming to set them all free from their black coffins (probably the smallness and darkness of the chimneys in which the boys crawled to clean and make a paltry living).  There is a feeling of hope and happiness imbedded in the sorrowful life these little ones lead and the fear they feel being forced into small, dark places where they can be stuck and die.  In the Songs of Experience Chimney Sweeper, the mood is quite a bit different.  The Chimney Sweeper answers the question, "Where is your mother and father?" with this reply, "They have gone up to the church to pray.  Because they see me happy, they think they have done me no harm."  The impression is that the sorrow and fear of his work have effected him more gravely than anyone knows, and he is reflecting on that.  He is definitely more "experienced" and worldly than he should be at such a tender age.  He is also more jaded and skilled in hiding emotions and true feelings than he should be for someone so young and small.

bhawanipur | Student

"The Chimney Sweeper" is one of my favourite poems of Blake. I find in the poem about poverty and unkindness. In the first stanza, we find that the speaker is a very young boy who is a chimney sweeper. During the period of Blake, in England little boys were employed for sweeping chimneys.

The teen ages boy lost his mother and his father sold him to a master-sweeper. He carried a brush and shouted searching work of chimney sweeping. He was sold when he was unable to pronounce the word 'sweep'.Thus a note of tragedy is struck at the very beginning of the poem. The child pronounced 'weep' in stead of 'sweep' because he was put into a condition to weep or children of his age weeps to attract attention of parents or others. It conveys distress of a little chimney sweeper.

we can also see this way that children of poor parents are not fed unless they cry. In England at the time of Blake people might have lost sense of christianity and employed such children to work who were suppose to be in charity school. A child sleeping in soot suggests that the morality of English people got darkened.

Then in the second stanza, a such teen aged sweeper named Tom Dacre who had nice curley hair was shaved his head in order not to catch fire. Also, his beautiful hair will not get spoilled by the soot, was a statement of giving consolation to the boy.

In the third stanza we see that Tom Dacre went to sleep at night and he dreamt a dream that thousand of teen aged sweeper like him were locked in coffins of black.

In the fourth stanza, the boy dreamt that an angel with abright key opened the coffins and set them all free. The boys ran towards the river leaping and laughing and took bath there and they emerged bright.

In the fifth stanza we see that those boys left their brown bags behind and played with the wind and the angel told Tom that God would be his father if he had been a good boy and then he would want joy never.

In the last stanza it is told that Tom woke up next day morning when it was dark and went to work with his brush and bag happily in a warm mood.