The main social issues being discussed in the poems “The Chimney Sweeper" by William Blake, “Imagine the Angels of Bread” by Martin Espada and “If I Were Paul” by Mark Jarman were distinct from each other. For example, “The Chimney Sweeper” discusses about child labor. “Imagine the Angels of Bread” discusses about especially unfair work conditions. “If I Were Paul” on the other hand, takes into account the biblical story of Saul of Tarsus and his journey to becoming the apostle Paul. One thing that connects these three poems, however, is that they all talk about controlling forces, forces that people must submit to or they would face dire consequences.
In “The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake, the narrator who was only a child talked about children being weak and at the mercy of their parents.
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"
The lines from the poem were significant in that we can deduce from here that the narrator was very young based on the fact that he cannot pronounce ‘sweep’. The line also tells us that the father was the one who sold the child, thus the one who controlled the child’s fate and the child was simply too young to know, much less assert, his rights.
In “Imagine the Angels of Bread”, the oppression towards the marginalized people are clearer and in a wider scope but is presented in an encouraging way. It can even be said that this is a poem about a dream – a dream about liberating people from oppressing forces that do exist whether or not the people notices them – and a call of action for those who do realize that discrimination that is happening in the world.
This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
“If I Were Paul” at first glance will not show you any connection to the other two poems when it comes to social issues. However, if you analyze the poem, the fact that it pertains to a biblical character says a lot. The one in control here is God and that we should consider having absolute faith in him. Now this is not a bad thing if you believe in God. However, the implication that men should follow blindly to what their religion tells them simply because they fear retribution from God and do not want to be cast into hell can become a problem.
Now imagine what I have to say when I learn of your enterprising viciousness, the discipline with which one of you turns another into a robot or a parasite or a maniac or a body strapped to a chair. Imagine what I have to say.
Today, society still deals with inequality and oppression and it can be found in all institutions – in working areas, in Church, even in a family. For example, an employer treating his employees badly is still a common occurrence in the work force. Also, there are still parents who feel like it is their right to decide their children’s future when clearly, it is the children’s choice. Even the Church is not free from discrimination because it discriminates those who are not seen as natural in the eyes of God such as homosexuals.
What the readers can learn from the three poems discussed is that the social issues at present are in fact just recurring issues from the past.
Blake, William. "The Chimney Sweeper." Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy Z. Eds.
Morris Eaves Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. Blake Archive Description DTD
Version 2004. 2004.
Espada, Martin. Imagine the Angels of Bread. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.
Jarman, Mark. “If I Were Paul.” Epistles: Poems. Tennessee: Imagine the Angels of Bread, 2007.