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The chimney Sweeper

Questa poesia dal titolo The Chimney Sweeper è stato scritta da William Blake e pubblicata nel 1789 in due parti nella raccolta di poesie intitolato Songs of Innocence. Questa poesia è una denuncia del poeta verso lo sfruttamento minorile, fenomeno molto diffuso in Inghilterra nell'arco di tempo compreso tra XVIII secolo e XIX secolo.


Analisi di Chimney Sweeper
Descrizione di Chimney Sweeper - Versione di sperodiaiutare

Analisi di Chimney Sweeper, versione di Langello

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep![a]
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved: so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet; and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, -
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.

Songs of Experience:

The Chimney Sweeper

A little black thing among the snow,
Crying "'weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!
"Where are thy father and mother? Say!"--

"They are both gone up to the church to pray.

Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smiled among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his priest and king,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."

William Blake was born in London into a lower-class family. At the age of ten he was sent to a drawing school and then he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Arts and set up a print-seller’s shop.
In 1789 he published his first collection of poetry, Songs of Innocence, in which he told happy stories based on the life of children and he illustrated each one with paintings and engravings. In 1794 he published his Songs of Innocence and of Experience in a combined volume. The second part deal with the presence of evil and injustice in the world. They didn’t bring him fame or financial success, in fact he lived the rest of his life in poverty and obscurity.
Blake elaborated a complete view of the world with a complex symbolism and his personality and poetry marked the beginning of Romantic Age. He reacted violently against all traditional forms, for example he openly attacked the Church of England and monarchy.
Many of Blake’s poems, like The Chimney Sweeper, are a criticism of the suffering of the poor and the oppressed.
So in spite of Blake was a self-taught poet, his poems are only apparently simple in the contents and in the language.

Chimney Sweeper: William Blake’s poem tell about a poor child, Tom Dacre, a chimney sweeper, who cries because his curled hair has been shaved. Another chimney sweeper, the narrator, tries to comfort Tom saying him that the soot can no longer spoil his hair. So he falls asleep and dreams many sweepers locked up in coffins, and an angel who set them all free and washed them in a river. Then they all went up in the clouds. Finally the angel told Tom if he is a good boy and he do his job he will go to heaven. His dream expresses the need to be free from his conditions.

In fact in his poem, Blake pointed out the bad conditions of the children in the period in which the Industrial Revolution came out: it set against the dark background of child labor. At the age of four and five, boys were sold to clean chimneys and work in the mines, thanks to their small size.
There is also, like most of the compositions of Blake, the contrast between flashes of white, like the hair and the angel’s key, and the darkness of soot and coffins.

Chimney Sweeper, Versione di sperodiaiutare

This poem is part of the Songs of Innocence a collection of poems written by Blake in which he explores the state of childhood, a time of protected innocence but not immune to the fallen world and its institutions. The other collection which represents adulthood are the Songs of Experience, a state marked by the loss of childhood vitality, by fear and inhibition, by social and political corruption and by the manifold oppression of Church, State and the ruling classes. The two collections contain pairs of poems that are meant to be read together, one as a commentary on the other. Each poem shows a contrasting perspective on the same theme and reflects Blake's view of the human soul as made up of complementary opposites and duality (e.g. Lamb and Tiger).

The poem deals with the life of chimney sweepers and shows how tough it was. The speaker is a chimney sweeper who first tells us that he was sold when his 'tongue could scarcely cry', meaning that he had no voice in society (being a child) and therefore could do nothing about it. The onomatopoeic repetition of 'weep, weep, weep, weep' represents his speech impediment due to his age, but can also be understood as his fear (that shows itself in the cry). There is a contrast between 'my' in the first two lines of the stanza and 'your' in the last line of the stanza which implies that he no longer has possessions but only cleans others' chimneys.

In the second stanza the chimney sweeper tells the story of his friend Tom who had his hair curling 'like a lamb's back' (simile) but was shaved bare. The lamb represents innocence but is also a Christian symbol and is associated with Jesus, therefore we see how Blake criticises the Church. The speaker tries to comfort him by assuring that the 'soot cannot spoil your white hair' now that his head is bare: it will be easier for him to do the job.

In the third stanza our attention level is raised as we see how 'thousand of sweepers […] Were all of them locked up in coffins of black'. Blake uses typical working class names to show how many children there were in this dream, where the 'coffins' represent the chimneys in which children got stuck sometimes and died. But then came and angel 'who had a bright key', implying that faith in heaven is their key to happiness: the angel opened the coffins that can now be also associated with a prison cell, and set them all free. They now run 'leaping, laughing' (alliteration of the soft 'l' sound that emphasises their freedom) and 'wash in a river and shine in the sun': the children can finally get clean again after having slept in the soot (first stanza).

The unrhyming vowels in the last two quatrains create imperfect rhymes ('behind' and 'wind', 'dark' and 'work, 'warm' and 'harm') which implies something is wrong: Blake is rebelling against the way society is forcing young children into work. He also thinks that they should be allowed to live as children, following nature. However, they are 'naked and white', meaning they are pure, innocent and free (innocence of infancy) and 'all the bags left behind' – they put aside their worries. We also get an angelic image of the children that 'rise upon clouds and sport in the wind'. The angel assures that Tom will never 'want [lack] joy' and 'he'd have God for his father' if 'he'd be a good boy': this is a symbol of their oppression and control from the Church that is exploiting them.

In the last stanza the dream is over and the chimney sweepers wake up in a 'cold morning' but they are 'happy and warm' because they believe that there will be a better life for them in the future. The anaphora of 'And' highlights the perpetual hard work they suffer, while the last line is ironic 'if all do their duty they need not fear harm': it clearly shows how they are controlled and have no freedom, but by using duty Blake is ironic, because children should not be working in such conditions, they should not be working at all.

The comparison poem in the Songs of Experience expresses what the children thinks through the words of an adult. The speaker blames 'God and His priest and king' for making up 'a heaven of our misery'. Blake again attacks the higher classes that are not doing anything to improve the situation.

Autori che hanno contribuito al presente documento: sperodiaiutare, Langello.

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