Social Issues In Poems Mending Wall, The Chimney Sweeper, To The Infant Martyrs And Channel Firing

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the two-part poem ‘The Chimney Sweeper,’ author William Blake explores the motifs of poverty, faith, society, and manipulation through the eyes of child laborers. “The Chimney Sweeper,” from Songs of Experience explored the background of child labor that was prominent during the late 18th century in England. In the beginning, lines 1-2 describe an observation of a living black object that is sad and crying. At first, the audience is not does not know what the little black “thing” is, which gives us room to ponder on what the narrator is looking at.

The title, however, gives us clues that what is being observed could be a chimney sweeper because he is described as being “black,’ meaning he is covered in chimney soot. The chimney sweeper is described to contrast against the white snow, which could symbolize purity, since he is covered in black, dirty soot. Also, the fact that the narrator called the chimney sweeper a “thing” tells the audience that he doesn’t value the chimney sweeper very much. In lines 3-4, the narrator decides to engage in conversation with the chimney sweeper by asking him where his parents are, and said it somewhat forcefully when he says “Say!”.

The chimney sweeper responds saying that his parents are at church and continues to elaborate on the relationship between him and his parents in lines 5-8. He states that he was previously happy but then his parents forced him to dress up in the chimney sweepers uniform and learn the craft. The chimney sweeper isn’t happy with what he is doing, however he continues to act like everything is okay in front of his parents. The tone given from the chimney sweeper is depressed and miserable and illustrates how he longs for parental guidance. He also says that God and his parents “make up a heaven of our misery” which implicates that they contribute to his suffering. Even though his parents attend church in order to pray to God, they behave in such an ungodly manner by abandoning their child in the snow to work while they go pray.

Ultimately, the purpose of the poem is to question why God let his parents contribute to his suffering by neglecting him in order to go give their time to God. The theme of the poem is stating that the few people that you can rely on in life will not hesitate to abandon you in order to seek their own desires and needs. I believe that this poem was directed towards an audience of neglectful parents who fail to see that they are making their child unhappy by being selfish.

The poem “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence, on the other hand, is also set in the winter in late 18th-century England. The first stanza introduces the speaker, a young man who was sold by his father, after his mother died, into the hazardous occupation of chimney sweeping. The narrator then goes on to introduce a fellow chimney sweeper named Tom Dacre who is upset because he has to have his head shaved. It is evident that Tom is not happy with his life, so the speaker attempts to comfort him until he falls asleep. Tom ends up drifting off to sleep and the poem begins to describe his dream of the chimney sweepers’ “heaven.” Tom wakes up the following morning, however, with him and the speaker still being trapped in their dangerous line of work. The boys continue with their terrible work with hopes of a happy future outside the “coffin” that is their life. This promise of a happy future was often used by those in power to so that workers would not stand against the inhuman conditions forced upon them.

The author not only critiques the terrible conditions of chimney sweeping, but also the society, and particularly its religious aspect, that would offer these boys palliatives rather than aid. Overall, the theme is about the loss of innocence because these children do not have a childhood. By being forced into being a chimney sweeper, these children face an early death; however, they’re practically dead already, as they have already lost their childhood, innocence, and freedom. Moreover, the author continuously juxtaposes the colors black and white, contrasting light and dark, and the innocence of the children being tarnished by the soot. ‘ …All of them locked up in coffins of black… (12).”

The dead children in Tom’s dream have been killed by the soot which they had been smothered with, as they lay in black coffins. The author uses imagery such as ‘night’ and ‘black’ in reference to the highly harmful and detrimental soot which destroyed the children’s lives. It’s as if they are lying in the chimneys which they had spent most of their lives in. When the Angel frees the boys from their coffins, it portrays that death is the only way out of this chimney-sweeping misery.

The poems “To the Infant Martyrs and Upon the Infant Martyrs” by Richard Crashaw elaborate on the brutal murdering of newborn babies . These poems are told from two different points of view. In “To the Infant Martyrs”, Richard Crashaw is addressing the newborns directly, as if he is speaking to them “Go, smiling souls, your new-built ages break.” whereas in “Upon the Infant Martyrs” he is describing the aftermath of the massacre, “To see both blended in one flood, The mother’s milk, the children’s blood.” Moreover, the deaths in each poem are both vividly described in their own unique ways. In “Upon the Infant Martyrs,” the holy innocents die while being nursed, in a flood of dissolution that blends the refined blood of their “Mothers Milk,” the blood of the butchered maternal breast, and the pure blood of the children’s martyred bodies.

In “To the Infant Martyrs,” the “milky fonts that bath [their] thirst” invite abject comparison with the blood spurting from severed veins and female body parts, and the milky froth bubbling from the mouth of the dying. Ultimately, the newborns were slain due to the orders of King Herod who was the king of Judea in 37 BC. During this time, Jesus Christ was born and King Herod feared he would become a threat of his political power. As a result, he commanded all of the newborns to be killed in order to prevent Jesus from growing up and gaining influence. This poem symbolizes insecurity and intimidation. When people see that someone could be a potential threat or competition they become intimidated and insecure. As a result, they will do anything to make themselves feel better or eliminate any threats.

Mending wall is a poem about two neighbors on a farm who are separated by a stone wall. Every year they meet each other to make repairs and maintenance when necessary. Both neighbors have different perspectives about the wall. The narrator does not see the purpose for wall as there nothing to keep between the wall but trees. The narrator shares his opinion with his neighbor and his neighbor disagrees, as he says “Good fences make good neighbors.” The wall is a symbol of mental walls and boundaries people have.

The narrator symbolizes someone who is open and has nothing to hide. People like this have no issues opening up to people and sharing what is on their mind. The neighbor represents those who have trust issues and like to keep to themselves. These people do not like to open up and always share their thoughts. Also, they like to keep their space as they believe this is good to maintain healthy relationship. This causes conflict, because different viewpoints clash and no one is able to engage with each other. Ultimately, it hinders relationships from forming and becoming stronger. Walls keep people from each other and prevent them from entering in. It also provides security, as it can be difficult to break down a wall. Countries also use walls at their borders to prevent immigration and provide a sense of security.

When someone has a strong mental wall, it is difficult to engage with them and get them to open up. A mental wall provides security for the person as it makes it difficult for them to open up and interact with others. The audience is those who are open and also those who keep to themselves. In this poem the wall is used both literally and symbolically. The irony, is that the wall is what brings the neighbors together and also separates them at the same time. The narrator wants to get rid of the wall to bring them closer together, whereas the neighbors wants to keep the wall for distance and space. Even though this poem was written in the 1900’s, it still discusses an issue that is very relevant today in society.

“Channel Firing” written by Thomas Hardy is narrated from the view of a skeleton who is awaken from the dead due to the sound of gunfire out at sea in the English Channel. The narrator is addressing the living and elaborates on how the noise of the gunfire woke the dead from their rest. The gunfire was so loud that the members of the dead thought it was Judgement Day for the sins they committed.

The animals in the vicinity were also startled from the sound of guns firing, and describes the reactions of the animals when the narrator states that “The glebe Cow drooled.” God informs the dead that is nothing to worry about, and that it is just men practicing their marksmanship and planning for warfare. God also states that it is a usual occurrence so they should just lay back to rest. Thomas Hardy, the author, uses a double entendre for the word indifferent. The first meaning he is referring to the dead being indifferent to the actions of the living, since they have been dead and their time period has passed already.

The second meaning is interpreted as not being different. Warfare has been going on centuries, so nothing has changed. The dead in this case is just like the living as their generation also engaged in warfare. This is emphasized when God says “The world as it used to be.” Towards the end of the poem, the narrator wonders why he spent so much time preaching, when conflict and warfare is still going on. He was so focused on spreading the word of Christ, he never got to enjoy his own life and be at peace with himself.

The audience of this poem would be directed towards the living, since this was told from a dead person’s point of view. I believe the author’s purpose was to inform the readers that history repeats itself. War is still going on and nothing has changed. Also, how society has become so desensitized to violence and warfare it is the cultural norm. Sometimes, people get so caught up on trying to change or save the world, they forget what matters the most in life. They are never able to find their passions or be happy, because they are trying to change things out of their control.


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