(Chimney Sweeper) songs of innocence and experience
The industrial revolution which began during the 18th and rolled over into early19th century played a pivotal role in the change of industry and life in the United Kingdom. During this era significant changes took place i.e. farms were replaced by cities and the economy was solidified with the social class structure undergoing radicalised transformation. William Blake through his diligence and craftsmanship articulately protested the impact of the industrial revolution in his poem "The Chimney Sweeper," which was narrated through the dialect of a participant of the underclass. Within the novels Blake was attempting to highlight the harsh conditions of the industrial revolution where the world was altering at an amazing rate. It was an era of immense political upheaval and paranoia, leading to Britain's powerful and wealthy classes fearful of revolt. The less well off citizens in society endured the gruesome consequences of an absurd political decision making framework with families leading separate lives, as their young children were exposed to harsh conditions i.e. chimney sweeping which consequently cost them their lives during adolescence. Since Blake was raised in a poor working class establishment, he was in a position to describe what occurrences. The discourse will compare songs of innocence with songs of experience focusing on literature, culture and society.
Both songs in general focus on the same theme, but the portrayal of images differentiate. The Chimney Sweeper from songs of experience paints a more bleak and abysmal circumstances towards the chimney sweeper's life in comparison to the lighter "The Chimney Sweeper" from songs of innocence.
The literature analysis in the song reveals that Blake utilises clever language with concealed connotations to depict images with dual meanings i.e. "And so he was quiet". This excerpt suggests that Tom was compelled towards a degrading life of chimney sweeping and also purports the image of death, which is synonymous in the novel. The subsequent stanzas from songs of innocence juxtapose one another with the second stanza depicting a 'white' innocent image compared to the subsequent stanzas delineating images of darkness and demise. This black image is solidified in the metaphor; "Were all of them locked up in coffins of black" which displays a connotation of negativity of images of children compelled to go up chimneys awaiting their demise. The literature highlights a culture of death and degradation prevalent during the era.
The penultimate stanza purports a cynical viewpoint of religion; "So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm." Blake portrays irony i.e. death cannot be harmless? Furthermore as McRae (2005) cites the excerpt shows that the dream has given hope, as he will go back to the enjoyable life he once had.
Comparatively however, the song of experience is considerably shortened. The song focuses on a number of deeper aspects mirroring Blake's perspectives on society especially as he criticises the church and religion, and the heartless social consequences of being selfish, greedy, and power from the privileged members of society. The first line of the stanza reflects the author's views of the inequalities paramount in society as he refers to the boy as a "Little black thing among the snow". This so called 'thing' and somewhat insignificant object, is not worthy of a name. The terms 'Black' and 'Snow' are harsh juxtaposing which compare with one another to accentuate the impact of this visual image and highlight literature and society during that era. (Greenblatt, 2006)
In grave comparison in song of innocence Blake reflects his perspective on society throughout the poem. i.e. "They are gone to praise God and his priest and King" a phrase highly critical towards society and religion implying that this indecent behaviour is socially acceptable since the parents don't think they are doing any harm. The literature Blake is using is pivotal and coveted with concealed connotations, with this powerful expert implying his anti establishment views of 18th century life. (Greenblatt, 2006)
Blake protested through simple poetry and used realism as opposed to deep symbolism, in the form of imagery to depict the ravages of the industrial revolution. Through the use of a young chimney sweeper, the author sets up conflict between ideologies and value systems to emphasise society at the time. Through this passage "Were all of them lock'd up in coffins of black" symbol indicates sweeper's deathly lives, jailed within in chimneys to show the class system of the time was too severe.
Blake relates literature to society to demonstrate the clash between the ideology that persons derived from the upper class were superior to those from the lower reaches questioning the class regime and whether its unequivocal acceptance by society contradicts common value systems. However, today power and ideology are both valued but are not set apart. William Blake desired that society questioned the way it did things and whether such things were morally correct.
- Blake, W, (2006), Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Prentice Hall, London
- Bradbury, M, (2001), William Black and his contribution, The Independent, London - 16th May 2001
- Greenblatt, S, (2006), The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Norton, London
- McRae, J, (2005), The History of Literature in English, Palgrave McMillan, London