The Poems of William Blake

The Chimney Sweeper - Blake's criticism of social hierarchies 12th Grade

Social hierarchies function to elevate a group of elite citizens to a superior position, thus resulting in the disempowerment of groups that are below them in rank. William Blake was one of 18th century Britain’s most prolific Romantic poets, leaving a legacy of poetry largely unappreciated until after his death due to his working class social position. Blake focused on the plight of the working classes who lived and worked in inhumane conditions during the Industrial Revolution. He was a politically motivated social critic and his ideas still resonate strongly with social and political egalitarians today. His poetry books Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) contain numerous poems that pair and can be read dialectically to reveal two ways of viewing of similar issues, one from the understanding of a childlike mind and the other of a being with greater knowledge of the world. “Chimney Sweeper” from both books reveals the construction of social hierarchy in Blake’s society that disempowered the working classes by forcing them to be subservient to the (Christian) Church and state, as well as oppressing children of the working classes who often had no choice but to carry out work such as the dangerous task of...

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