Criticism on"The Chimney Sweeper" (Songs of Experience)
Notes 1- refers to annual May Day procession of sweeps in which they danced - in the streets, whitened their hair with powder, decorated - themselves with bits a foil and ribbon--a kind of Saturnalia - objectification of child "a little black thing" - contrast sympathetic identification with sweeper-speaker in companion poem in Innocence - authority figures--parents, God, king - seems to refer to symbolic rather than literal parents - here adults transform misery into heaven - but not positive transformation as in Innocence - they shut their eyes to real suffering - what does last line mean? that the adults get material profit out of the misery of the poor? or that they comfort themselves in Church - with thoughts of their "charity"? - again more ambiguous, disturbing at end of poem
A very much darker and more savage vision here than in the counterpart poem in the Songs of Innocence. The references to a church which is complicit in the repression of the child, together with the treatment of the negligent parents, make this one of the most bitter poems in the sequence, with its emphasis on a whole system (God, Priest and King) which represses the child, even forcing him to conceal his unhappiness (a reference to being "clothed"), psychologically as well as physically). Comparison with the Songs of Innocence poem "The Chimney Sweeper" is valuable.
Literary CriticismAnnotated Bibliography