Cycle of Despair

           “Chimney Sweepers” focuses the harsh abuse of child labor from the greedy upper class citizens, as well as the parents who sold them to exploit their innocence and loyalty. Blake uses two speakers in this poem to convey this message: a man who finds a boy in the snow, and the boy himself. The first image we see is that of a small child crying for his parents in the snow. The child asks the person where his parents are, and the speaker says his parents are in church, praying. Here, is the first time we see Blake’s criticism of parents. He claims that parents continue with their daily lives while they needlessly send off their children to do intense, demeaning labor. Instead of caring for their children, parents are using them as slaves, forcing them to work for very little money and taking away their innocence. This is reinforced when the child says, “They clothed me in the clothes of death and taught me to sing the notes of woe” (7-8). Blake plays with the image of “clothes of death” to portray a double meaning. People can take this as either the uniform of a chimney sweeper or that the child is laying in a coffin, waiting for death. Personally, I think it is the latter. It is clear that the boy realizes the unfairness of his parents and society, which has taken in goodness to exploit his labor. Blake again plays with imagery in the third stanza. Readers see the child playing, singing, and being a well-rounded, normal child, similarly to how his parents see him. Then we are faced with the stark reality that the child is miserable and falsely portraying happiness. The child again blames his parents for the misery that has become him. Blake here is criticizing parent who claim to be godly people. While they are rejoicing in church, they greedily send their children to make money. In this sense, we can also see that this poem is a personal critique against God. He is supposed to be all-loving, yet he allows innocent children to be used for money and convenience.

            Blake wrote “London” also as a critique against citizens. As opposed to concentrating on a single location and person, this poem concentrates on the surroundings of London. All around, the speaker hears echoes of misery, fear, and blood. Blake again uses imagery to the encompass oppression, depression, and poverty that consumes the city. Blake likewise alludes that the government is also to blame for the mistreatment and misery of the people. He adds this commentary by mentioning the places where gloom is seen, such as blood running down the palace walls. Unlike in “The Chimney Sweeper,” the speaker is not focused on a single person. Instead, he/she sees and hears remnants of the people. Buy doing this, Blake alludes that citizens are to blame for their own despair. The speaker states, “The mind-forg’d manacles I hear:” (8), meaning that minds are more powerful than the physical restrains that people are faced with. The final stanza is critical in expressing the sequence of misery. A prostitute gives birth to a child, thus regenerating despair. The final line, “And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse” (16), indicates that love (the newborn) combines with death to create a never-ending cycle of despair.

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2 thoughts on “Cycle of Despair

  1. I really like how you broke down the poems and found images that I did not, like the critique of God in “The Chimney Sweepers”. However I have a question for you, taking a look at this version of “The Chimney Sweepers” from the book “Songs of Experience” you have written that Blake is critiquing the parents that sell their children, but what about child labor in general? Also I wonder if you have read the version from “Songs of Innocence” where the speaker of the poem seems to be encouraging the boys to become sweepers and work? If you have, what would you say about the contrast between the two poems, and the differences that the speakers take on in both?

  2. It all comes down to interpretation, but do you think Blake’s focus is more on the govt/ rich instead of citizens? The prostitute is paid by men with money for sex, but left to deal with the child on her own. Everyone, he states, is miserable, stained by the blood of fighting and politics. Instead of helping those like the chimney sweeps or prostitutes, the government is busy expanding their territory, fighting for power,fighting over religion, and allowing people to suffer.

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