William Blake and his poem “London”: Short study

Hello (again) …

This article is actually a short biography of William Blake and a quick study of his poem “London”.

Who is William Blake?

William Blake was a British poet and illustrator who lived in the 18th century (before Dickens). His tormented drawings reflected his complex personality. He mainly used dark colors. In 1794 (in the midst of political and economical revolutions), he published his most famous books: “Songs of innocence” and “Songs of experience”. Through those books, the author wanted to show two contrasts in man-kind: on one side the “innocence” -which is the positive part- and on the other the “experience” -which is the (very) pessimistic part-.

In “Songs of experiences”, the main topics are urbanization, poverty, prostitution, social inequalities, the power of the state and church and child labor. Here’s a short study about Blake’s poem : “London” (which is part of the “Songs of experience”).

London:

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

—————————————–

In every cry of every Man,

In every Infants cry of fear,

In every voice: in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

—————————————–

How the Chimney-sweepers cry

Every blackning Church appalls,

And the hapless Soldiers sigh

Runs in blood down Palace walls

—————————————–

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear

How the youthful Harlots curse

Blasts the new-born Infants tear

And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

Main topics: poverty, prostitution, power of the church and state, child labor.

1) Who does the speaker talk about?

In this poem, men, children, chimney sweepers, soldiers and prostitutes are mentioned. All of them are in deep grief and seem helpless. Sorrow embraces their soul.

2) Which monuments are mentioned here? Who  do they represent? Why?

The author talks about the church : ” blackning Church appalls” representing the monks, priests and pope and the Buckingham Palace: ” Palace walls ” representing the royal family. Those two monuments symbolize the two dominant powers of the 18th century: the power of the church and the power of the state. They are evoked through allegories to  avoid censorship. Indeed, censorship was a very serious matter back then and there was a huge lack of liberty.

3) What image of London is given to us?

A very negative image of London is here displayed. As part of the “Songs of experience”, this poem expresses a lot of sadness, sorrow and despair. The atmosphere is very gloomy. London appears as a dark and dreadful city. We can really feel that the people are suffering. If London was “alive”, it would probably weep …

Some analysis elements:

  • “every” is repeated seven times. It concerns everyone except the royals, the religious cast and the aristocrats.
  • “charter’d” means “chart” (rules you must respect)
  • anaphora of “marks” : poor people are marked by sadness and compared to cattles
  • “cry” : shows the sadness of the people
  • “manacles” : lack of freedom, jail, censorship
  • Stanza 3 : Blake wanted people to start a revolution
  • “Marriage hearse” : A woman who was married was “imprisoned” for  life and then headed to the cimetery

That’s it for this short analysis…It’s not very joyful but we can really see the reality of life in the 18th century in London.

steamcity_by_natmonney-d45ydyv

(picture credit: NatMonney deviantart – no copyright infringement intended; for educational purposes)
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