Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The Chimney Sweeper cover image

While presenting the nonjudgmental viewpoint of the child, Blake makes a passionate indictment of a society that exploits the weak and at the same time hypocritically uses moral platitudes about duty and goodness to further its selfish interests. Moreover, the reader is made aware of his own complicity in social evil when the sweeper addresses him directly with the words “your chimneys I sweep.”

Yet, the poem is more than social criticism. In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Blake contrasts the two states of being. Usually the condition of childhood, innocence is that state in which evil is not known; it is characterized by joy and love, is normally associated with the peaceful harmony of a pastoral background, and is often guarded by the presence of the good mother. Experience, on the other hand, brings awareness of evil; it is accompanied by feelings of outrage and hatred; and it finds its appropriate setting in the city. In Blake’s philosophy, passage through experience is necessary before entrance into a final state of vision, a higher innocence in which joy is regained but transformed by deeper spiritual awareness.

Although most poems in Songs of Innocence directly reflect the happiness of innocence, a few—notably, “The Chimney Sweeper,” “Holy Thursday,” and “The Little Black Boy”—place innocent children in a world of experience. Surrounded by evil, these children still retain their innocence,...

(The entire section is 479 words.)