Thursday, July 12, 2012

A comparison of Blake's poems 'The Chimney Sweeper' innocence and experience

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The personification of the inevitable nature of the industrial revolution can be seen in the quote “The innocence had to die, the children had to die.” The inhumane use of child labour in this period of heightened industrialism raised many moral dilemmas for the people of the time as it still does today. William Blake too had an emotional response to these measures, this can be seen in his pieces of both innocence and experience by the title The Chimney Sweeper. In these poems Blake uses emotion to convey feelings of sympathy and remorse towards the children, these are poems of sorrow, they are not neutral, as Blake himself already feels moved by the children’s plight.

Blake employs a variety of techniques to convey his messages. One of the most effective literary tools he utilises is metaphor. Metaphor is used by Blake to add another dimension to this piece, the deeper meanings of the words give a more powerful image. In The Chimney Sweeper poem of innocence a rich example of this can be seen “Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black.” On it’s own such an image provokes an emotional response as darkness and coffins represent death and loss. However upon a deeper understanding it can be seen that ‘coffins of black’ are like the inside of a chimney, and that the dark and enclosed environment of the chimney represents death or it’s eventuation. Many young boys lost their lives trapped by these foreboding black walls, and so our response to the words is heightened. Blake also uses rhyme as a technique in these pieces, he employs different forms of rhyme to create a different feeling or response. In the innocence poem rhyme is used in a very rhythmic way almost like a childhood fairytale, and such is the essence of innocence. Blake uses this joyful tone to illustrate the irony of the situation. That however dark the words may be, if it is said in a nice tone it seems less harmful. Such is the nature with which these children were treated. Because they were playful and cheery people were able to detach themselves from the reality of how they were treating them. In the experience poem he uses a different rhyme. It is more inconsistent and doesn’t have the tone of a nursery rhyme. This notion personifies the effect of experience as it fragments innocence and destroys it.

Comparatively the poem of innocence and the one of experience, although similar in topic are conveying much different messages. Blake does this by using different language and techniques. Blake to a very large degree uses our emotions to provoke a response and in the experience poem this can be seen. Blake provokes these emotions by creating a sort of pining and sorrowful image. “A little black thing among the snow, Crying ’ ’weep! ’weep!’ in notes of woe!” There is no condolence for the boy in the experience poem which leads us to feel more compassion for him. Blake employs this use of loneliness to illustrate the impact of experience. We begin to see that there are no condolences for victims of experience. In doing this Blake is taking away an item of luxury, in that the child must deal with his own emotions, as we often have to do as adults. As a result the child’s innocence is taken away. However in the innocence poem “little Tom Dacre” was consoled, as a child should be and told not to worry. No matter how bad the situation may be a child needs hope in order to want to survive. Another comparative point of the two poems are the images used. In the innocence poem they are much more colourful and full of life than those of the experience piece. There is a lack of imagination and faith in the experience poem as the child seems no longer able to see the light, but instead is blinded by the darkness. Upon examining the chimney sweeper’s poem of experience it is very pessimistic, there is no reflection of what is good but more focus on everything that is bad. In Juxtaposing this the poem of innocence is very optimistic and aims to find a ray of light in the dark existence of these children, they try and see the good that could come of their tragic existence.

Throughout many of Blake’s poems of innocence and experience this sense of sorrow and pessimism can be seen in those of experience. In Holy Thursday Blake illustrates the darkness of the church in taking away a child’s colour and life, however in the song of innocence ‘The Tyger’ the almighty power of god is celebrated. The poems of innocence have a more positive outlook on life as we know it. These themes are so powerful because such is the nature of humanity. As innocent children or even young adults we see the realm of possibilities in life despite our situation whereas the elderly; people of a lifetimes experience seem to focus on the negativity of their existence. Metaphor is also a powerful tool used by Blake throughout all of his works. In the piece The Tyger metaphor dominates the poem as it has many different levels of understanding and meaning. Blake uses metaphor to add emotion and complexities to his poems, it enables him to illustrate the several levels of understanding of a situation. It also allows Blake to add more advanced concepts into his works and still appeal and reach out to a wide audience (although public recognition did take some time.) Blake’s use of human iniquity as a subject matter is recurring in many of his poems. In the piece ‘London’ he refers to the woeful state of the city of London and to some extent the downfall of man in not being able to uphold its former glory. However upon reading the poem it can be seen that it is this exploration of human flaws that provokes such an emotive response from the reader. These examples of Blake’s techniques are just a handful of the many methods that the ingenious artist employed in order to produce such expressive poetry.

The Chimney Sweeper songs are one of a few where both the innocence and experience poems have the same subject matter. This has enabled a more thorough understanding of William Blake’s intentions in being able to manipulate a reader’s response through emotion. In these songs Blake uses his own emotional reaction to the atrocities against children to compel him to write about them. Blake seemed to have been so moved by the treatment of these children because they were being denied their childhood. It is this personal connection and interwoven emotion of the author that adds the heightened experience of his work. Blake has incorporated many techniques and approaches to evoke a reader’s response including metaphor and rhythm. As a result Blake’s poetry on a whole has proven to be timeless pieces of ingenious.

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