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The Chimney Sweeper

Read and annotate the following poem. Then write a response to each of the two questions. Conclude by writing a thesis statement that would present an arguable analysis of the poem.


The Chimney Sweeper


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.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head

That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved, 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 locked up in coffins of black;

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,

And he opened 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.

Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;

So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

  1. In the 18th century small boys, sometimes no more than four or five years old, were employed to climb up the narrow chimney flues and clean them, collecting the soot in bags. Such boys, sometimes sold to the master sweepers by their parents, were miserably treated by their masters and often suffered disease and physical deformity. Characterize the boy who speaks in this poem. How do his and the poet’s attitudes toward his lot in life differ? How, especially, are the meanings of the poet and the speaker different in lines 3, 7-8, and 24?
  2. The dream in lines 11-20, besides being a happy dream, can be interpreted allegorically. Point out possible significances of the sweepers’ being “locked up in coffins of black” (12) and the Angel’s releasing them with a bright key to play upon the greens.

DMU Timestamp: August 14, 2020 20:51

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