The theme of childhood was prevalent in the early part of the 19th century and Blake was a strong believer in the power of children and a child’s voice in creating a paradise state of mind. In this essay I will discusses Blake’s treatment of children in both text and picture and how the images he links with his poems give them a deeper meaning. Imagination and how we use it is very important to Blake, he believes it allows us to sidestep time and escape our human bodies and go to a deeper, spiritual paradise, this is very clear in the pictures and colours he surrounds him poems in, and it almost makes them dream like. G. E Bentley Jr spoke of how he had “very little of Mr Blake’s company; he is always in paradise”. I will be analysing, ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ and ‘The Little Black Boy’ (Songs of Innocence) ‘London’ (Songs if Experience). In Songs of Innocence Blake explores children’s outlook on life and more importantly their own unjust lives. Many of the poems in this collection are hard hitting, and both the text and images reflect this, because the children in poems accept the injustices and corruption against as the norm and do not question or try to break the cycle. In the chimney sweeper the image is located at the bottom of the poem; it is an image of a child being helped out of a coffin by an angle like figure while other children are happy and rejoicing in the background. I find this image very hard hitting as it isn’t until you have read the poem that you realise that they are rejoicing because they are being freed from a life time of misery and that this freedom is only in their dreams. The length of the poem, the large tree on the right hand side and the positioning of the image at the bottom is also very interesting. From my observations of the poem it is showing the long journey these innocent children must go on to find freedom, the freedom we see at the bottom of the image is only the beginning and is giving them false hope of a better life. I also see the length of the poem as a metaphor for a chimney that they will have to climb many times before they are allowed to be free. The image is interesting however as when you see it first you get one meaning from it and then when you read the poem and see the image you get a completely different meaning from it. The written aspect of the poem and the visual are in complete contrast to each other, the written part is cold, bleak and blunt whereas the image is joyful. The person in the poem is a young boy and he opens the poem telling the story of his horrific childhood to the wealthy people in society. He is very detached and is talking to us as though what he is telling us in unimportant and the way every childhood is lived.
‘When my mother died when I was very young...
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.’
In the second stanza he brings in a new character ‘Tom Dacre’, he is obviously only very young and only a new chimney sweeper as he ‘cried when his head... was shav’d’. The poem is chilling as you hear of young Toms dream in stanza 3 and 4 and how he is soothed by the image of an angle coming to free ‘thousand of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned & Joe’ from their coffins. It is a horrifying image to have a child’s good dream steaming from ‘coffins of black’. The naive approach Blake takes really hits home and emphasises the miserable existence of these children. The child is looking forward to dying and yet he does not realise that that is what looking forward too, he does not understand that his freedom will only come about with his death. The religious references are also very cold and condescending, Tom is told ‘if he’d be a good boy’ he would have the freedom he experienced in his dream but I can’t help but ask what if it isn’t ‘a good boy’ what happens to him then? The last line really answers this question;
‘So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm’
The child believes that if he does what he is told he will ‘have God as...
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