One student’s top four Blake poems

Introduction – Songs Of Innocence
What drew me to this poem in particular was the story it told. The child he sees could be interpreted in two ways, in a literal way or a figurative way. If it is thought of in a literal way the poem could be about how Blake told a child a poem of his, and the child very much enjoyed it and encouraged Blake to write more poems so “every child may joy to hear” them. If it is thought of in a figurative way then it could be interpreted that Blake had a dream where he saw a child in a cloud and that he had an epiphany that he should write his poems down and take it more seriously then he possibly did before. For me it was an interesting insight into Blake’s poetry as it was the first poem of his I read, and in my opinion it was a very fitting poem to start on.
The Schoolboy
What interested me about this poem is how relevant it is, even after hundreds of years when this was first written. The message in it is something that I also believe in. The fact that children are put in such a suppressive environment every week for hours on end does not make sense to Blake, and to me. I felt a connection to this poem as soon as I had finished reading it for the first time. The imagery of the bird stuck in the cage was very poignant for me; it really went well with the idea of a child being confined into school and still being expected to have “fun” and to “enjoy” it.
The Chimney Sweeper
This poem was very confusing for me at first as I initially thought that the chimney sweeps had died. But upon reading it again it had become one of my favourite of Blake’s poems. The idea of the chimneys sweeps thinking about death and going to heaven every night in their dreams is haunting; it leaves the reader in an inquisitive state of how bad life must be for the boys. The fact that death and going to heaven keeps them warm and happy when they wake up is very bittersweet. It’s something that would be depressing for me if I thought of death every night, but it is a motivation for them, and this is something that completely fascinates me.
Nurse’s song
This poem is in my top 4 of Blake’s poetry because of the fact that it is, in my mind, such a lovely story. It is simple short and sweet and it leaves a warm image in my mind after I have read it. I also enjoy the way in which it ends. The whole poem rhymes until the last line when Blake rights “And all the hills echoed”. This helps the last line to stand out from the rest and leaves imagery of children’s laughter echoing round green hills. A generally calming and warm image.

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Blake’s ‘Chimney Sweeper’ — the horror of child slave labour

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You can compare different versions of the poem here.

 

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.

Theres little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curl’d like a lambs back, was shav’d, 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 lock’d up in coffins of black,

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he open’d 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.
Tho’ the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm.
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

Questions to answer on the poem

What effects are created when the poem is read aloud or sung?

What interests you most about the poem? Why?

What questions might you ask about the poem?

What is the poem about?

What effects does the language create?

What is the effect of the poem’s structure and form?

What are the similarities and differences between other texts?

How do other people interpret this poem? Find sources/links…

What might make a good creative response to the poem?

How might you teach this poem?

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