’s Poetry Essay, Research Paper
Children in Blake’s Poetry
The use of children is a prominent theme in a number of William Blake’s poems. It is apparent in reading such poems as, “The Lamb,” “The Little Black Boy,” and “The Chimney Sweeper,” that Blake sees the world through the eyes of a child and embraces the innocence of the young.
Blake’s poem “The Lamb,” from Songs of Innocence really illustrates the innocence and purity of a young child. The persona in the poem is of a young child. The child questions the lamb as to where he came from and asks, “Little Lamb who made thee? / Dost thou know who made thee?” (9,10) The child is expecting the Lamb to answer him but it is obvious to the reader that the Lamb can’t talk. When the child receives no answer, he decides that he’ll tell the lamb where he came from. He says, “Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee!” (12). The child says:
He is called by thy name
For he calls himself a Lamb;
He is meek & mild,
He became a little child;
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name. (13,18)
The child really shows that his innocence here. The Lamb is being referred to as Jesus, the Lamb of God. The child is saying that that Lamb, Jesus and the child are all the same. What the boy does not understand, because he is a child and so innocent, is that the Lamb will be sacrificed, and the child will die, just like Jesus did when He was crucified.
“The Little Black Boy” from Songs of Innocence is another poem that illustrates the innocence of children. The poem is written from the persona of a little black boy who has been told that being white is better then being black. The little boy says:
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child;
But I am black as if bereav’d of light. (2,4)
Here the little boy is saying that even though he may be black on the outside, he believes he has the soul of a white child. He thinks that white children are like angles and black children are black because they are deprived of the light.
The mother sits the boy down under a tree and says to him:
And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, like a shady grove. (12,15)
The mother is trying to console her son here by telling him that he is going to face a difficult life but once he makes it thorough all the struggles, and has learned to bear the heat from the “beams of love,” God will take him into heaven.
The little black boy envisions the day that he and the white boy will be brought to heaven. He says, “I’ll shade him from the heat til he can bear/ To lean in joy upon our father’s knee.” (25,26) Here the little black boy is saying that he will protect the white boy, and then they will both go to heaven.
“And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair, /And be like him, and he will then love me.” (27,28) The little boy is saying that once he is in heaven he will no longer be been by the color of his skin. However, he thinks that he won’t be loved until he is like someone else.
Another poem of Blake’s that shows the innocence of children is “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs Of Innocence. The persona in this poem is one of a young chimneysweeper. The chimneysweeper who is speaking is one who has had experience in the business for some time. He is trying to give advise to a new chimney sweeper named Tom Dacre.
There’s little Tom Dacre, who cries when his head
That curl’d like a lamb’s back, was shav’d, so I said,
“Hush Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.” (5,8)
Here the chimneysweeper is telling Tom that his hair can’t be ruined if it is shaved and that it is nothing to cry about because it is part of the job.
Later that night, when they went to bed, Tom had a dream. He dreamt, “That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned & Jack, / Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black.” (11,12) Here the coffins are used to represent the chimneys that the little boys have to shimmy through. Blake writes, “And by came an Angel who had a bright key, / And he open’d the coffins and set them all free;” (13,14) Here the angel that comes to save the boys is the angle of death. The angel is setting them free because they are going to heaven.
The angle tells Tom that if he does his work and is a good boy that, “He’d have God for his father & never want joy.” (20) This is important because the children’s fathers sold them into the chimney sweeping business. So to Tom, having God as a father is something wonderful and to go to heaven is equally appealing to him.
Blake then goes on to write, “So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.” (24). This line is very ironic because that is what the little boys think, however, the children do not know that they will die young from an unpleasant death because of this job. By saying this, Blake illustrates how he sees the world through the eyes of a child.
Blake’s poem “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs Of Experience, however, has a very different tone compared to “The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence. In Songs of Experience “The Chimney Sweeper” has a narrator in it questioning the young chimneysweeper. He says, “ ‘Where are thy father & mother? say?’”(3) The young child tells him that his parents have gone to church to pray. The child blames his parents as well as society for his present position in life and says:
“And because I am happy, & dance & sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King,
Who make up a heaven of our misery.” (9,12)
Unlike “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence, the young boy in this poem realizes that he is going to die and that this is wrong. He blames God, his parents and society for letting this happened to him. Blake is still seeing the world through the eyes of a child in this poem, however, he is looking at it from a more mature or experienced point of view.
Many of William Blake’s poems contain images of children and depict children as innocent and na?ve. Blake sees the world through the eyes of a child and he shows this through his poetry.