As a romantic poet, William Blake distrusted the government and its institutions. He believed in the basic goodness of man. Preferring nature to the civilized world, he senses a restorative property in the natural world.
Songs of Innocence was published five years before Songs of Experience. Eventually, Blake combined the two works emphasizing parallel poems in each book.
Songs of Innocence celebrates the hope and innocence of a child. In these poems, Blake writes about a world where fear can be conquered and life can be instinctive without complete the domination of the soul.
Songs of Experience portrays a lonelier world. He examines what happens to a child when the complications of life and society take over.
The parallel poems of “The Chimney Sweeper” illustrates the differences between the two approaches of innocence versus experience.
Songs of Innocence---"The Chimney Sweeper" The poem is narrated by a boy whose mother dies and is sold by his father to become a chimney sweeper. He was so young that he could barely talk or cry.
He tells about his friend Tom Dacre who is also a sweep. The topic issed from the poem is the abuse that the sweeps suffer.
The boys get up before sunrise and begin to work in the chimneys. There is no love, sympathy, or parenting for these boys.
Tom cries when his white hair is shaved. The nameless narrator tris to point out the positive about it: the soot will not spoil his white hair.
Tom has a dream that night about the sweeps going to heaven. All of the sweeps were locked in their coffins working. An angle opened the coffins and set the boys free.
The boys begin to run and play. They are able to go to a river and wash all of the soot away. The boy’s naked and clean rise on the clouds to heaven. The angel tells Tom that if he is good, God will be his father and he will be happy the rest of his life.
When the boys awaken in the morning, despite all of the hardships which are the same as before, Tom appears happy. His courage and strength have been renewed. The narrator is inspired by Tom and his new outlook.
The Songs of Experience—“The Chimney Sweeper”
It is winter and the little sweeper covered with soot cries out:
Where are my father & mother? Say? They are both gone up to the church to pray…
This poem attacks the abusive parents who have left their child to work while they go to church to pray. What hypocrites! The child is left outside in the wintry weather trying to find work. His parents are inside the warm church praying. There is not hope or pleasant dream in this poem.
The reader will feel sympathy for the child and disdain for his parents who go to talk to God. What do they feel when their child is begging for work? His parents are described as seeing their boy happy and playful. They dress him in black clothes for cleaning and then they taught him to sing sad songs to get the attention of the adults as they pass by the boy.
In the third stanza, the boy indicates his unhappiness with his parents. He tells them that just because he acts happy and plays outside they believe that he is not being hurt by this abuse. They go to pray and praise God who rules over the world of the sweeper’s misery.