Comparison: “The Chimney Sweeper” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Essay

The poetic word does not depend on any time frames. Sometimes we can be impressed by the fact of discovering of certain similarities in the tones of two poems which were written by the poets who were separated by the whole century. William Blake published The Chimney Sweeper in 1789, and T.S. Elliot published his famous The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in 1915.

The themes of these two poems can be considered as different. Nevertheless, there are some features which are similar for these poems. William Blake and T.S. Elliot discuss the peculiarities of the social development, personal roles and social positions in this developing society in their works. In spite of the fact the protagonists of the poems are of different ages and on different social stages, they both suffer from the social pressure and face social challenges.

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William Blake belongs to the Romantic age in the literary process. This fact influences his peculiar focusing on the protagonist’s emotions, thoughts and feelings. However, his protagonists usually act according to the peculiarities of the historical background. The Chimney Sweeper of 1789 was published in Blake’s “Songs of Innocence”.

The theme of the poem can be considered as social injustice which can result in the problem of social pressure on young boys in England of the 18th-19th centuries. They were usually sent to work as chimney sweepers because their families suffered from great poverty. William Blake describes the peculiarities of their life with the help of Tom Dacre’s words in the first stanza of the poem.

The young boy’s emotional monologue represents the peculiarities of his life in which he “could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep. / So your Chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep” (Blake 426). Thus, William Blake’s language is rich not only in sound devices which result in a unique rhythmic structure of the poem but also in many similes, symbols and images. The simile is also used to depict the appearance of the boy who looks like an innocent angel with “his head / That curled like a lamb’s back” in contradiction to his constantly being in black soot. “You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair” (Blake 426).

The image of Angel appears in the boy’s dreams when he sees several sweepers “in coffins of black” (Blake 426). The image represents Tom’s belief in the happier future because in his dream Angel came “who had a bright key / And he opened the coffins and set them all free” (Blake 426). There are two important symbols and two images in the poem which can be considered as religious.

The symbols are the sky and the coffin and the images are Angel and God. William Blake created a symbolic poem in which he depicted a difficult social and economic situation in England using an ironical and hopeful tone. The irony is in the fact that Tom Dacre is not afraid of the death because he hopes that he will be freed by Angel and will become happy after his death.

The tone of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot is rather melancholic. T.S. Elliot wrote his poem when he was a student and only began his way as a Modernist poet. However, Modernism influenced the style of the poem which is written in the form of a dramatic monologue greatly. Moreover, T.S. Elliot used the Modernists’ technique of the stream of consciousness with the help of which the author depicts ‘random thoughts’ of the protagonist (Perrine). The theme of the poem can be considered as the person’s inability to act under certain life circumstances and on a definite social stage.

The form of a monologue influences the rhythmic structure of the poem which is characterized by a lot of repetitions and refrains which help to emphasize the protagonist’s thoughts in the stream of his consciousness. For instance, “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” (Elliot 981). The repetitions are also used in many questions in the poem, the most important of which is “do I dare?” (Elliot 981).

Moreover, the author uses repetitions to express the protagonist’s awareness of his growing older, “I grow old… I grow old” (Elliot 981). The concept of ‘time’ is also rather symbolic for the protagonist who repeats “There will be time, there will be time” (Elliot 981). T.S. Elliot also uses the metaphor for the expression of the protagonist’s attitude to time, to his death, and to the meaning of life, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (Elliot 981).

The whole tone of the poem is rather pessimistic in comparison with that one of The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake because the protagonist of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock does not see the escape from his melancholy, he is “like a patient etherized upon a table” (Elliot 981). This simile is very expressive and can be associated with a lot of allusions in the poem. The most interesting among them is the allusion to “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. However, Prufrock declares “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be” (Elliot 981).

In spite of the fact The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot are written in different literary eras and have a lot of distinctive features, they are similar in the general aspects of their themes and in the presence of a great number of images and symbols such as ‘time’ and ‘death’ in these poems.

Works Cited

Blake, William. “The Chimney Sweeper”. The Norton Anthology of World Literature (Shorter Second Edition). Ed. Sarah Lawall. Vol. 2. USA: W. W. Norton and Company, 2009. 426. Print.

Elliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. The Norton Anthology of World Literature (Shorter Second Edition). Ed. Sarah Lawall. Vol. 2. USA: W. W. Norton and Company, 2009. 981. Print.

Perrine, Laurence. Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. 3rd ed. USA: Harcourt Brace, 1969. Print.

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