Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dramatic Monologue

"The Chimney Sweeper" by William Blake

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue,
Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep.
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

Theres little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curl’s like a lambs 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.

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a sleeping he had such a sight,
That thousands of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned & Jack
Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black,

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he open’d the coffins & set them all free.
Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Tho’ the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm.
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

A dramatic monologue is a type of poem in which the speaker appears to be talking to an unseen audience. It is a way of telling a story through the words of poetry.

In this dramatic monologue the speaker is a "Chimney Sweep". He tells his story of his mother's death and father's having "sold [him] while yet [his] tongue, Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep." The speaker, however, does not stay on the subject of his own life for long. Instead, he talks about Tom Dacre who is a new child just sold to be a new chimney sweeper. When he "cried when his head That curl’s like a lambs back, was shav’d" his innocence is shown. He is unaware of what is to come for him and the speaker acts as a guide for him.

The dream that Tom has is significant to the conditions of chimney sweeps at this time in history. They were forced to live in terrible conditions, sleeping on the bags of soot that they had swept that day--shown in the phrase "in soot I sleep." However, Tom dreams of the young chimney sweeps locked in black coffins which are symbolic for the suppression of these boys. When the angel comes to free them from their coffins, Tom is dreaming of being released to freedom along with the other chimney sweeps. He has an innocent view of the situation he is in.

In having this dream, Tom is able to realize that one day he will be freed from the situation he is now in. The "Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy, /He’d have God for his father & never want joy." In otherwords, if Tom has faith in God then he will be rewarded some day. Therefore, Tom wakes up the next morning happy to do his work along with the other chimney sweeps.

Do you guys think this is a political statement in any way? What could William Blake be commenting on? Does it go further than simply chimney sweepers? How does he view religion as a force in one's life?


Charlie said...

William Blake wrote his poems back in the 1700-1800s so he lived before the time of the industrial revolution and the huge improvement in living standards for most people. It’s easy to imagine that the chimney sweepers would share a common fate with the day laborer or the maid, apprentice and servant.

I don’t believe it is political. It doesn’t appeal to the people to help the plight of the poor. Instead, it speaks to the poor and tells them “So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.” As long as you do good work, you’ll be rewarded. This is a very traditional protestant/puritan view of how life worked. Hard work leads to a better life and most importantly, afterlife. This begs the question, are the coffins and angels symbolic of the sweeper’s release from the earth to the heavens?

Awesome poem though, love the way it just flows because of the rhyming at the end of the lines. Seems playful for what should be a darker subject.

Kasey said...

I definitely think it is possible that the poem can have some religious connection. One, obviously, because he mentions the angels and the mention of God. But in addition, some religions have the idea that if you do well and live a productive life, you will move on to heaven. In the case of this Chimney Sweep, he believes that following God and what he is "meant to do" will get him to Heaven.

Christina D said...

I actually think that it is definitely making a political statement. If you're right charlie, and this is during the 17-1800's, then you need to remember that politics and religion were interconnected, and often religion was used as political propaganda, and an excuse for lack of social reform.
That's why I think that this poem is political. It shows that the "plight" of the workers is being passed over by the reasoning that if they're good and do their job they will be rewarded in heaven. And the unseen partner of that statement is "And since you'll be rewarded in heaven for doing this job, it would be wrong of us to try to change the situation you were born into/ God led you to. We don't need to help you out now, you'll get yours when you die."

kerrym7 said...

I think it is speaking more to religion than to politics. Dreaming of God and angels as an escape shows it is a large part of their lives. Like Charlie said, the coffins are symbolic of the sweeper's release from earth to heaven. In this light, I don't really see religion as an excuse for social reform.