young boy in overalls and a hat walking with a chimney sweeping broom over his shoulder

The Chimney Sweeper

by William Blake
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In William Blake's poem, "The Chimney Sweeper," the metaphor "coffins of black" represents:  A) Innocence B) Chimneys C) Daffodils D) The tiger

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"Coffins of black" represents innocence and what is done to innocent children.

In the poem, the narrator, himself a young chimney sweep, recounts that poor Tom Dacre had a dream in which he saw thousands of chimney sweeps locked in "coffins of black." If Tom stopped there, the reader could...

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"Coffins of black" represents innocence and what is done to innocent children.

In the poem, the narrator, himself a young chimney sweep, recounts that poor Tom Dacre had a dream in which he saw thousands of chimney sweeps locked in "coffins of black." If Tom stopped there, the reader could easily think that the little boy, at least subconsciously, was wising up about his situation and that of the other chimney sweeps. They spend their days in the "dark coffins" of soot filled chimneys, which they clean by climbing through and brushing. They have to be kept half starved to fit down the narrow chimneys, and they have a high rate of cancer from their contact with so much coal dust. Their work truly is like being locked in a black coffin.

However, what makes this image heartbreaking is that it is followed in the next stanza by the rest of Tom's dream. Because he is still so innocent, he dreams an angel comes and sets the chimney sweeps free. We adults, who are experienced with the evils of the world, know that no angel is going to come and save these children from their sad lives.

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The "coffins of black" line is multi-layered, evoking both the physical and existential imprisonment experienced by the child chimney sweepers.

On one level, it could represent the inside of the chimneys the children are forced to sweep, which are caked with soot. That these children often procured respiratory problems from their line of work also adds additional, poignant meaning to the description of these chimneys as coffins.

However, this image could also represent innocence, or more appropriately the death of said innocence due to their miserable servitude. The boys are forced into an early adulthood and deprived of the joys of childhood. When they dream of the angels setting them free, they are dreaming of being allowed to experience childhood innocence, playing in the sun and laughing like children should be able to do.

The angel setting the children free could also represent the possibility of happiness in an afterlife— the best these unfortunate children can hope for in a line of work where dying young is a very high possibility.

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In William Blake's poem, "The Chimney Sweeper," the metaphor of the "coffins of black" can be seen to represent innocence. This can be justified by the fact that the speaker in the poem has been sold as a slave.

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.

Later in the poem, readers see the metaphor in question:

Were all of them lock'd up in coffins of black.

Here, the numerous sweepers are described as living a life confined by sweeping. The sweepers have nothing else in life but to sweep.

In the following stanza, and the one which shows how the coffins represent loss of innocence, an Angel frees the sweepers from their life of confinement and loss of innocence.

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he open'd 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.

It is in this stanza where the reader can see how the escape from the "coffins of black" represent a loss of innocence. It is when the sweepers are freed that they are able to leap, laugh, and run--free as all children should be.

Therefore, the coffin truly represents a loss of innocence and not innocence itself.

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