Comparison Of The Chimney Sweeper And The Last Duchess

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The purpose of writing poems back in the days was to discuss the problems that existed in society. Chimney Sweeper was written by William Blake in the late 18th century when Britain suffered from the Industrial Revolution. Blake hated the chimney sweeping job that was forcefully given to the children who were aged between 5-10 years. By observing these children he wrote a book of poems The Song of Innocence and Experience which was published in 1794. In The Song of Innocence, he wrote about the innocence of a child being born in a harsh society, he plays and smiles. To him, world seems peaceful and beautiful. In The Song of Experience, the child sees the world more clearly and understands it. Being an orphan and poor is considered a disgrace. How a child’s innocence is destroyed from his experience in society. The Chimney Sweeper talks about that very child. Since England suffered from harsh weather they had to burn chimneys in order to keep themselves warm. The chimneys were very narrow and to clean them was not easy. A grown-up couldn’t do it. To clean those chimneys, orphan children were hired. Due to their small build, they could easily go up and clean them.

“The little black thing in the snow/ Crying ‘weep! weep!’ in the notes of woe”, the little black thing tells us that the speaker is conversing with a small child who is covered in soot with all the chimney sweeping. He sees him crying in the snow. The white snow makes the child, covered in black, stand out. A passerby, the converser, out of curiosity asks the child as to why is he crying. One thing that I noticed in these lines was the contrast between white and black. How sleekly the poet compares society with the child through colors. Black symbolizes something dark or evil, It can also symbolize depression. White gives the idea of something pure and peaceful. Of happiness and calmness. The child who was once pure like the snow is now miserable, covered in soot. The comparison between the elite class and the working class is also put into light here. The Elites think that the world is pure and there is nothing to worry about, like the speaker who doesn’t seem to grasp the idea that why the child is crying. He refers to him as a ‘thing’ instead of calling him a child. ‘Tears of woe’ are the cries of the working class, how miserably and wretched the world is and how people like the speaker have no idea what those cries are for. Weep! Weep! is from the word sweep. The Child is being forced so many times to clean. Chimney sweeper is also about the children cleaning the dirt of society. The incompetency of society has led to suffering of the children who are to clean this mess. Usually when the elders of the society make a mistake their offspring suffers and have to clean the mess. The same idea is of chimney sweeper.

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The speaker asks the child where his parents, out of concern, are. He uses the word “gone up to the church to pray” The words that child uses to tell the converser that his parents are dead telling us that he is still a little bit innocent. This helps us identify the exact age of the child. He goes on to explain how he seemed happy to his parents. He loved his life, he had fun playing around the streets, and his parents left him. He is so depressed that he blames himself as the cause of his parents’ death. He thinks that being too much happy made his parents leave him behind. When someone is miserable, he usually blames others but the child is so innocent that he thinks that maybe he did something wrong that his parents left him. “Clothe me in the clothes of death”. The chimney sweeping led to the deaths of children. In the 18th century, most of the children died in the chimneys. Cleaning the soot every other day, the soot would enter into the lungs of the children. They were already given less food to eat and no one was there to look after them if they were sick this would result in death. The child is aware that chimney sweeping is like a death sentence. Because he had no one protect, he was sold off to do a life-threatening job. “taught me to sing the notes of woe” now he blames his parents who left him to do the job that makes him cry and miserable. Because his mother and father think that he is happy and smiling, they think they have done the right thing. This can be related with the government. Just like when the government sees few people happy, the elites, they think they have done their part. They are indifferent to the fact that majority of the people are in suffering.

Blake ends the poem with child saying that his parents, priest and king are praying to God “heaven of our misery” is a very abrupt sentence. This shows how much the child perceived about the world. He knows God is used to creating a fake heaven on earth. The Elites use God’s words to manipulate the working class. Just like the Marx’s theory, the industrialists use the religion so that no one goes against them. They give them work to get money and create a paradise on earth.

Through this poem Blake blames the higher-ups for causing the misery in this world. To me, this poem seems very dark. Chimney Sweeper, the title itself is gloomy. I like how he used his observation of chimney sweepers and relate to the society’s dirt. He added the religion and government with it because both are responsible in the persecution of the children.

Robert Browning was one of the most important poets of the Victorian period. He was known for his dramatic monologues in his poems. My Last Duchess is also like a drama that illustrates the murder of a Duchess. It is an ‘ekphrastic poem’. The story that is written in the poem depicts the life of a Late Duchess in the words of her husband. The Duke mimics and degrades the character in his point of view and explains the story the way he wants to. The Duke invites a visitor, his guest to see the painting of his late wife. By using flattery and honorable words, he is trying to impress the Emissary of the Count to take his daughter as his wife.

Some critics believed that this poem was written from the inspiration of the Duke of Ferrara, a classical figure in the Italian Renaissance. Since his wife’s death was a mystery, Browning takes us back to the history in order to show us the mind of a psychopath husband. It also mentions about the woman he is courting after the death of his previous wife. Browning uses aesthetics, art, to show an act of crime which really impressed many people. At the time of the Italian Renaissance, Power was absolute to men which shows it was a period of male dominance in society. Renaissance in Italy also brought interest in art and aesthetics among the elites. They used to have portraits made for themselves and hanged in their houses. The same concept is used in the poem. Robert used the painting of the Duchess to start the act. The whole poem is narrated by the Duke only. Showing a character, in the point of view of another only shows us the perception of the speaker.

The Duke turns back the curtain to show a painted picture of his wife to the emissary of a Count. The way he reveals the curtain and tells him that no one is allowed to see this, is maybe because he is hiding something and that the servant is so important for him that he takes him upstairs to show him an important painting. He remembers her with the words “as if she were alive” which means that her existence even after her death is so realistic that he feels scared to even look at her. Since he was a very proud man who looked at everything as objects including women which meant patriarchy existed in the society of that time, he uses the word ‘that piece’ and instead of using ‘her’, he uses ‘it’ throughout the poem.

He starts off by complimenting the painter but also quotes how Fra Pandolf explains the beauty of the Duchess which gives us the idea that maybe he was his rival in love. He says that when you see the painting, you can picture the countenance clearly. The painter and the duchess were so close that he was able to detail her facial expressions easily. This very little detail makes him annoyed. He was so jealous of the painter who could make his wife smile. The Duke then narrates the character of his wife. In his words, she was a naïve, too easily impressed and a kind lady. Her gaze was delightful and she was a cheerful woman. He expands her behavior by telling how her smile was not because of him but for the men around her. Whenever Pandolf complimented her or flirted with her, the lady would flush at his words. She was so awed by him, that Duke could see joy in her eyes. Usually blushing means that you are interested in someone but not always, the Duke judges that maybe they are in love with each other. It hurts his pride to see his lady smiling at the flattery of another man. When he did her a favor, she would be impressed as if she is seeing a beautiful sunset or her white mule. ‘Officious fool’ is someone who brings her bough of cherries, she smiles the same way. This makes the Duke think that he equal to other men. He does takes back his words saying that she blushes when she sees him but then goes back to saying that it is not special since she blushes at everything.

‘My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name”, opens up the vanity of the Duke. He is shown as a Narcissist. He carries himself in a way to portray that he is a gift to his wife. No one would respect her that much if she hadn’t carried the Duke’s name. His family name is so honorable that Duchess should bow before him and listen to him only. He degrades her by telling that she stooped so low that she talks to every man. She carries herself lowly but he is different, he cannot go up to her level to scold her about her manners because he is an honorable gentleman.

After this, the Duke gives us the view of their private life. He would shame her by saying “you disgust me.” “All smiles stopped together” maybe the Duke used violence on her. Since in Victorian Era, Women did not have much legal rights. They were to be handled by their husbands. The Duke used his advantage to control his wife. This line can also mean that he killed her. Maybe they were fighting and in the state of anger, he killed her.

In the last lines, he sneaks in words like munificence and dowry, to hint that he expects the Count who is wealthy, to send him huge dowry with his daughter as his object. He shows the messenger a rare bronze sculpture of Neptune taming a sea-horse. This ending shows that he looks women as objects i.e. the sea-horse, the since Neptune was the God of water, he had the power to control the water and the creatures inside it. The sea horse is an innocent creature like women, and Neptune, the man, has the power to tame them. And just like objects when they grow old are thrown away. Women, too, can be thrown away and replaced with another.

The whole is based on critics, according to me, Browning is educating the critics that just like Duke who is proud man who think everything he is doing is right, the critics think the same way. Just like the Duchess who can be blamed for smiling and being kind, the critics think they can critique every poem and control it the way they want.

Both “The Chimney Sweeper” and “My Last Duchess” talks about the society. The difference between Elite class and the working class. The Chimney Sweeper is a point of view from the working class while My Last Duchess is a point of view from the elite class. How much the Duke represents the how vain the elite class was and how every little misery made them angry. How they looked at everything as objects that can bought through money. Truly, creating a paradise by buying everything and leaving the commoners in misery.   


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