Describe the tone of "The Chimney Sweeper"  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" has an irony to its tone that disguises his revolutionary fervor. For instance, in one part of this poem, there is an exuberant tone as the dream of the boy is described and the lines lightly rhyme,  

And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

This exuberance develops into a more wistful tone:

And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.

However, with these lines, there is subtle suggestion of irony.This irony of Blake involves some absurdities that cease to be absurd when understood by the reader.  For instance, the boys are, in reality, "locked in coffins of black" as they clean the dark, sooty chimneys "in clothes of death." And, then an angel with "a bright key,"opens the coffins and set the boys "all free," meaning, of course, that the children have died and their souls are then released.  And, so, Blake disguises his rage at the inhuman treatment dealt to the innocent children.

Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.

While the last two lines appear to rhyme, they oppose each other in connotation, thus underlining the irony of Blake's real message that is disguised with the wistful, exiciting, and peaceful tones.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tone of the poem is one of gentle innocence and trust, which contrasts sharply with its grim subject.

The young chimney sweeper's words show that he and his fellow sweep are in a harsh situation. They are the among most vulnerable in society: young children who are orphaned or unwanted. They are "sold" into this work. They get up in the cold before sunrise to do their jobs.

Tom, the little boy who cries when his head is shaven for the work, dreams of the chimney sweeps having an ordinary boyhood afternoon in nature:

Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run, 
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.
 
The narrator holds onto the hope that all will be well in his life, believing the words he has been taught:
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm. 
The tone of innocence and the hopeful dreams of the sweeps create dramatic irony. Readers know the lives of chimney sweeps are miserable and usually short. They are not going to get to run and play in the sun like ordinary children. We known the chimney sweeps do need to fear harm. Society's betrayal of these children becomes all the more searing as we encounter their trustful and innocent tone of voice.