The Chimney Sweep and Nature’s Children
In examining Wordsworth’s Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Early Childhood, there are some similar themes and elements that can also be found in Blake’s collection – specifically when looking at the Chimney Sweeper poems. These elements include reflections of childhood and innocence, experience, and how nature can impact individuals in a time when Britain faced massive industrialization.
Both poets discuss the fluid state of innocence and being closer to God or further away from an enlightened state. Blake’s poems “The Chimney Sweeper” in both representations depict a child and their relationship with God or religion although both have markedly different experiences. The first poem shows a child in an earlier state – one Wordsworth might suggest still have memories of his previous existence before being born. And although it is very grim, the ending suggests a sort of happy acceptance of his fate and of looking forward to returning to his previous home. It bears a resemblance to the child of Wordsworth’s “Ode,” who exhibits the same sort of state of mind – a joyful disposition and closeness to God and Heaven. The difference would be that Blake’s child seems to have plenty of experience to have removed him from a child-like closeness to heaven whereas the second is relatively untouched by the same world the Chimney Sweep resides in. It almost seems as though he would be at a later stage of his life and of experience if it could be viewed through the prism of Wordsworth’s poem. It could almost be likened to the beginning of “Ode” when the speaker of the poem feels very darkly about how far he has fallen from his original state. And even though the poem is viewed as a critique of organized religion, it can also be viewed as one child’s experienced state as hardened by a removal from what he used to be after being forced into changing to what others demand of him – a sort of lower-class act the child puts on to haul his “earthly freight (Wordsworth 556).
Something else to consider when reflecting on the opinion of childhood and God, in both Wordsworth and Blake’s poems, are their relation to nature or lack-thereof. Both of Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper” poems are set in gritty, city settings and are far removed from the nature depicted in Wordsworth’s “Ode.” Blake’s poems show through the harshness of their lives and the circumstances of so many other chimney sweeper’s deaths how industrialism was ruining not just children, but removing them from their God given natures. Wordsworth’s reflections demonstrate that through returning to nature, the speaker of “Ode” was able to think back on his previous state. Without the toil of day-to-day drudgery and by getting in touch with the outdoors, the speaker uses his experienced state to remember what childhood used to be and how he could be closer to Heaven in that way.
Blake, William. “The Chimney Sweeper.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Fifth Edition. Damrosch, David and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson, 2012. 197-198. Print.
Wordsworth, William. “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of my Early Childhood.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Fifth Edition. Damrosch, David and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson, 2012. 197-198. Print.