The Chimney Sweep
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
I was six years old, going on seven
When Jesus called the old man to heaven.
Least, that’s what I think – he may have gone down
He’d feel at home wearing the Devils crown.
Me mam had run off six years before
Last thing we heard was her slamming the door,
Left six hungry kids – including meself
No food in the parlour, no bread on the shelf.
The old man tried to keep us together
Went lighting gas lamps, out in all weather,
That winter was bad and he caught the flu
His last words to me were ‘You know what to do’.
We didn’t cope long, we just couldn’t survive
So we went to the workhouse to stay alive,
But the beadle was bad, an evil man
Took advantage of my big sister Fran.
I discovered Fran softly weeping
Said I’d slit his throat while he was sleeping,
The beagle decided that I had to go
Knew I’d keep my promise if I should grow.
So, now I’m leaving to earn my keep
The workhouse sold me to a chimney sweep,
A wretched geezer known all over town
For his grumpiness and constant frown.
The fat old man – as I’ll call him herein
Wore most of his last meal on unshaven chin,
His crumpled top hat and stained waistcoat
Showed up the red neckerchief around his throat.
His corduroy trousers were tied at the knees
With pieces of old string, if you please,
Above well-worn boots, although looking strong
Causing white sparks as he shuffled along.
His face was lined with the grime of years
And long silvery hairs grew from his ears,
His nose was quite bent and sat to one side
The smile on his thin lips had long since died.
At seven years old and as thin as a rake
I was willing to get anything I could take,
But the thought of those chimneys so dark and dank
Filled me with dread and my heart it sank.
Well, it was either that or become a thief
And no matter what – I was not a tealeaf,
So the fat old man complete with his frown
Slapped me hard as he dragged me through town.
For an overweight man he walked at a pace
It seemed as though he was in a race,
I toted his rods and black sooty brushes
As through crowded streets he grunts and rushes.
The noise was terrific, men were shouting
Young boys were fighting, women were touting,
Their wares from baskets as others greet
Among infestation upon the street.
Thin donkeys tugging at overladen carts
The pieman selling his pastries and tarts,
The clatter of hooves on hard cobbled floors
Half naked women at open front doors.
That place was quite bad, but then he turned right
Into a dark street where we lost daylight,
The buildings so close, as if to be pally
A sign up above read ‘Blind mans Alley’.
The darkened alley had never seen sun
The stench emitting was second to none,
Then the fat old man stopped dead on his feet
As the contents of a chamberpot met the street.
His filthy black fist he shook in the air
But the hag that had thrown it hadn’t a care,
And so we continued through that dingy hue
Till suddenly daylight, the sun shining through.
The town was now gone, the noisiness died
As we walked at a pace through the countryside,
Two lions on post and there- in between
A house of grandeur such as I’d never seen.
A cold looking house but two storeys high
With ugly chimneys which reached to the sky,
A panelled front door, its paint freely peeling
Was opened by a woman, cold and unfeeling.
We were ushered into a stately room
Quite light and airy, yet so full of gloom,
The unpolished table had seen better days
With dust swirling madly through the sun’s rays.
The fat old man wrenched the rods from my shoulder
As he pushed them together my blood ran colder,
He shoved me toward the black chimney throat
Into that cavity – dark and remote.
With brush in hand, I started to climb
Up through the caked soot wet with slime,
My knees were bleeding as I tried to grip
Skinned my knuckles as I tried not to slip.
When I got higher the space became tight
But thankfully above me, I saw daylight,
I gave one last push, my body was crammed
I started to panic as I became jammed!
I could hear muffled voices, way down below
My mind was drifting from lack of air flow,
My breathing was harder, I tried to move
But my disposition didn’t much improve.
My head was spinning as loose soot fell down
So much so, that I feared I would drown,
Then a warmth from below as if to berate
A fire had been lit, below in the grate!
The smoke stole the last breath that I had
And there in the gloom, I could see my old dad,
Coming toward me – offering his hand
As he took me from hell to the promised land.