A. At the beginning of the 19th century there were no laws against children's labour. Why do you think children were employed as chimney sweepers?

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B. Listen to the first poem and read it. What do you learn from it about the children's work?

The Chimney Sweeper (from "The Songs of Innocence")

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 let 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.

scarcely: hardly
weep: 1) to cry because you are unhappy; 2) the boy is so small that he can't properly pronounce the word "sweep" (the professional cry of chimney sweepers).
will never want joy: will always have enough joy, won't need any more.

C. Answer the questions.

  1. In what person is the poem written?
  2. Who are the characters in the poem?
  3. Why did the speaker of the poem become a chimney sweeper?
  4. Why did Tom Dacre cry?
  5. How did the speaker console Tom?
  6. What dream did Tom have that night?
  7. How did Tom feel in the morning? Why?
  8. What did the Angel tell Tom? Explain his words.
  9. How do you understand the last line of the poem?
  10. What is the speaker's attitude to his life?
  11. Where in the poem can you find irony?
  12. What can you say about the language of the poem?
  13. A lamb is a religious symbol of innocence and purity. Where in the poem does Blake use this symbol?
  14. Who encourages the children to work and not complain?

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D. Listen to the second poem and read it.

The Chimney Sweeper (from "The Songs of Experience")

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 smil’d 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 God and his Priest and King,
Who make up a heaven of our misery.”

woe: a strong feeling of sadness
thy: your
heath: a wide area of wild land where grass and bushes grow

E. Answer the questions.

  1. What is the point of view in the poem? Who is the dialogue between?
  2. Where are the boy's parents?
  3. Do the parents understand their child's feelings? Why?
  4. How do you understand the metaphor in line 7?
  5. How do you understand the last two lines of the poem?
  6. Find eye rhymes in both poems.

F. Compare and contrast the two poems. Write a paragraph.

What two volumes of poetry are the poems from? What do the two poems have in common? How are they different? Are there any differences in the way the boy in these two poems thinks and feels? What are the common themes of the poems?