Poetry for The Apprentice Chimney Sweep, Child Labour by William Blake

The Master Sweep


Aren't we are lucky to be born at such a time in history.

There was a time when most people heated their homes using coal. The age of Industrialization. 

A chimney sweep was hired to clean a chimney after a layer of creosote would build up on the inside of the flue.  A coveted position among children, boy or girl. This was done so the air flow across the coals was not restricted and it was also a fire hazard, so had to be removed.


The Apprentice Sweep

This is when the master sweep, would use child labour (apprentices) to complete the task, because of their size, they could crawl easier into the depths of the chimney.

These kids (apprentices) as young as four years of age, from organized work houses would climb up and down hot flues as narrow as 9 inches square.  The job was dangerous, many kids died, getting caught and jammed in the flue, where they suffocated or burnt to death.  



Most of the kids (apprentices) died from breathing in the carcinogen soot, known as Chimney Sweeps Cancer, they rarely washed, and slept on soot sacks.

In the colonies, (North America) Black children were taken away from their owners and used in the same way.

This practice continued right up until 1875.  


The Chimney Sweeper  

in two parts 
by William Blake

Songs of Innocence (1789)



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, and 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; and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, -
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and 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 and 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 and 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, and never want joy.



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

Songs of Experience (1794)



A little black thing among the snow,

Crying "'weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!
"Where are thy father and mother? Say!"--
"They are both gone up to the church to pray.



"Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smiled among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.



"And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise Yaweh and his priest and king,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."

Dog Brindle