Explorations Of Childhood And Duty In “The Chimney Sweeper” And “Casabianca”

1841 words - 8 pages

Although Blake wrote “The Chimney Sweeper” featured in Songs of Innocence before Felicia Hemans was ever born, issues relevant to first-generation Romantic authors still pervaded the literary scene when second-generation authors like Hemans finally took the stage. “Casabianca,” published in 1826, and “The Chimney Sweeper,” published in 1789, both address a central question: What does it mean to be a child? Both poems examine the duties that children have to society as a whole. While there is an overriding sense of an allegiance to duty in both poems, the poems’ situational irony complicates the relationship between children and responsibility. The final line of “The Chimney Sweeper” ...view middle of the document...

This idea is mirrored by both of the poems’ central images. For example, in “The Chimney Sweeper,” the main characters have the title’s namesake profession, which brings to mind images of soot-covered children. However, the poem reminds us that there are children “naked and white” (19) underneath the layer of black soot that covers them. Thus, Blake could be reminding his readers to look beyond the superficial level of both appearance and language to find deeper meaning. “Casabianca” requires the same unpacking of image and language that “The Chimney Sweeper” does. The poem creates a scene of chaos, and creates an image of uncontrollable flames engulfing both the child and his words. Hemans invites us to read closer so that we can “hear” the complicated message of her poem amidst the “breath” (21) of the flames. Although the poems at first seem reminiscent of nursery rhymes because of their structures, upon closer examination, the rhyme and rhythm serves to appeal to the protagonists’ youth and contrast against the responsibilities facing them in each poem.
The mismatched poetic structure and content not only encourage the reader to dig deeper into the poems’ meanings but also caters to the oral tradition of the Romantic period. Blake included “The Chimney Sweeper” in Songs of Innocence, a collection with musical roots. Its rhyme scheme follows the trend of the series as poems sprung from songs. In addition, the rhyme scheme highlights the innocence of the characters featured in the poems. Just as “The Chimney Sweeper” features elements of song, “Casabianca” reflects the oral recitation tradition that arose during the second-generation Romantic era. The tradition of recitation of “Casabianca” for school children reflects childhood innocence and obligation to duty. Just as school children were required to follow the orders of their teachers by memorizing verse, the children in both poems are obligated to fulfill their respective duties assigned to them by adults in society. The oral roots of both of these poems are significant because they highlight the childhood innocence that is denied to the protagonists because of their obligation to duty.
The poem’s two perspectives compliment each other and illuminate a viewpoint that is not accessible from each poem on its own. The third person narrator of “Casabianca” helps to glorify Young Casabianca’s sacrifices in way that would not be possible if the story were told from his perspective. For example, in line 5 the speaker contrasts Casabianca with the chaos happening around him:
Yet beautiful and bright he stood
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form. (5-8)
This quatrain characterizes Casabianca as a hero, but it also complicates his heroism as well. Out of context, the first three lines of the stanza are a more fitting description of an adult figure than the child figure that they are actually describing; however, Hemans...

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