The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)

The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)


  • “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence is one of two poems by William Blake that explores the life and conditions of young chimney sweeps in late 18th and early 19th Century London.
  • The poem employs a child-speaker to talk about the realities of life as a chimney sweep and their dreams of emancipation and heavenly joy.


  • The chimney sweeper represents innocence exploited and forced into a life of hardship and danger.
  • The sweep’s dream symbolises hope for liberation and justice, where the Angel releases them from their ‘coffins of black’ into an Eden-like environment.
  • Black coffins metaphorically represent the chimneys the boys clean, symbolising death and confinement.


  • Child Labour and Exploitation: This being a primary theme of the poem, the text directly comments on the plight of working children.
  • Innocence and Experience: The innocent mindset of the child is contrasted against the experienced, harsh world of the adults.
  • Religious Hypocrisy: Blake criticises the Church for failing these children, despite preaching virtues of love and compassion.


  • Visual imagery: The image of “little black thing among the snow” vividly presents the dark, sooty appearance of the sweep against the pure white snow.
  • Tactile imagery: The description of Tom Dacre’s “curled hair” being shaved presents physical sensation stressing the loss of innocence.

Rhyme and Meter

  • The poem utilises AABB rhyme scheme, following a similar structure to “The Lamb” which reinforces the innocence and childlike quality of the speaker.
  • The straightforwardness of the meter fits in with the speaker’s voice, being a child, and belies the tragic undertones of the poem.


  • The ‘bags’ that the boys left behind are metaphor for earthly troubles or perhaps the physical bodies they abandoned when they ‘rise upon the clouds’.
  • ‘Little lambs’ is a biblical metaphor connecting the sweeps to Jesus Christ, reiterating their innocence.


  • This poem provides a stark picture of the child labour that was common during the Industrial Revolution where children, as young as four or five, worked as chimney sweeps.
  • It’s important to understand that Blake was deeply critical of the Church and society for maintaining practices that exploited the poor and vulnerable.
  • Blake uses irony to criticise authoritative figures, especially the line “because I was happy upon the heath”, which subtly hits at the hypocrisy and willing ignorance of the society.

The list above offers a thorough and perceptive overview of “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence by William Blake. This will assist in comparing it to its counterpart in “Songs of Experience” to better understand Blake’s critique of society’s treatment of the innocent.