William Blake, Chimney Sweeping the Church.
William Blake throughout his life was a man of religious beliefs. However being reverent of the Bible he was hostile to the Church of England and to all forms of organized religion. His views in The Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience shed the same light on the church that can be viewed today. In these poems it is obvious that Blake disagrees with many facets of the Christian religion as an institutionalized system.(Harris) This can be said especially when comparing the two poems both titled “The Chimney Sweeper.” Knowledge was cherished by Blake. He argued that through knowledge one can truly understand Christ, and when this understanding is reached one can then begin to become Christ. (Harris)
The first chimney sweeper poem in The Songs of Innocence show this lack of knowledge of religion through the account of a child cursed to clean after the chimneys of others. The speaker in the poem is a child recollecting all of those who had passed before him, and in the lines “ And by came an Angel who had a bright key,/ And open’d the coffins & set them all free.”(Damrosch 182) shows us the nativity Blake believes some behold regarding the church and religion. Blake paints a picture of a small boy using conventional church beliefs, such as a child being told by an Angel to “be a good boy” as to have eternal happiness. William Blake here is somewhat mocking the ideals of the christian church, the notion of hypocrisy is full in the lines “And the Angel told Tom if he’d be a good boy,/ He’d have God for his father & and never want Joy.”(Damrosch 182) Blake himself a believer of celestial visions, uses them in this poem and in the larger work of Innocence to paint a very relatable image we can look at today. Critics of organized religion today too argue against a God pr belief system that would both doom a child to such a dangerous and lonesome life, and one that would in return of prayer or good deeds free him of his sorrows.
Blake believes in his “monistic” portion of beliefs come from his view that materialism (evil) and spiritual (good) are one, furthermore, everything is one. Life is not a constant battle between the two, but life is a culmination of everything, good and bad, that one must plow through and make sense of.(Harris) Blake goes on to argue this in the counterpart to The Chimney Sweeper of Innocence which is titled the same. In the Songs of Experience Blake now discusses the apathy of the organized church. He uses the lines “Where are thy father & mother? say?/ They are both gone up to the church to pray”(Damrosch 194) to show the irony of people’s religious beliefs. Blake believes death is a very important part of the religious discussion. Thus pointing out the apathy of parents and their child’s dangerous occupation by attending church. Today one can argue the same irony placed on church-goers. Blake uses these two poems to hold a mirror to the organized religions of both his time and of ours. One can examine not just these two poems but a multitude of works with The Songs of Innocence and Experience to compare and contrast and ultimately separate the religious beliefs and the religious organizations.
Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar, eds. The Damrosch Anthology of British Literature. Fifth ed. Vol. 2A. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.
Harris, Drew. “Analyzing William Blake’s Poetry.” Analyzing William Blake’s Poetry. Emmitsburg News Journal, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
Image attained at http://veryphil.com/literary-studies/chimney_sweeper_research_paper/