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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What details about the speaker's history are revealed in the first poem?

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"The Chimney Sweeper" talks about the tragedies of the boy's life and how he became a chimney sweeper.

"The Chimney Sweeper" is published in both Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The first part is located in Songs of Innocence and discusses the background of the subject of the poem.

The boy in the poem lost his mother. She died when he was young and left him with his father. According to the boy, his father sold him before he could even speak at an adult level. This is what led him to being a chimney sweep. He lives with the other boys who sweep chimneys; they're all small, young boys. He helps comfort another boy who is upset about his head being shaved.

The boy talks about his friend who has a dream that an angel frees them from coffins and offers them God as their father. The dream bolsters the boy and the next day he is cheerful. The speaker makes a point of saying that about Tom but doesn't say that he, himself, was happy and warm.

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The speaker's history in Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" comes in the first stanza:

When my mother died I was very young,

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.

The repeated weep in the third line represents a child trying to say sweep, but being unable to, and of course is also a play on his crying for having to leave home.  He was very young, in other words.

This was a common situation in the England of Blake's day.  Some sweeps were orphans, but many were sold by families that couldn't afford to raise them.

The job of chimney sweep was very nearly a death sentence:  the soot in a person's lungs often killed a sweep sooner or later.     

This speaker is naive and goes on to tell how he and other boys accept their fate because they will be rewarded later in heaven, going along with the rationale given to them by adults and the church for allowing such mistreatment.     

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