Labor Day blog? Yes, I’m realizing my social media feeds appear empty, too few extolling the virtues of the history of the working class. What would E. P. Thompson say? What can I say, except to point to a William Blake poem. Written in 1789, “The Chimney Sweeper” appeared in a small poem book called Songs of Innocence. These are early Blake poems, typified by observation, allowing the simplicity of words and rhymes to act as a sort of journalistic account. The social order in England had long been changing, and from Blake’s late-eighteenth-century London perch: not for the better. And these children chimney sweeps, to which Blake refers, would have been familiar to every Londoner at the time. We tend to forget the havoc caused by the industrial revolution and the corporate abuses upon people, and in this poem, upon children.

Blake song of innocenceSo in remembrance of labor past – I give you:

The Chimney Sweeper: When my mother died I was very young
by William Blake

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;

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, & 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 locked up in coffins of black;

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

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