Blake S London Poem Analysis Essays

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Summary: Analyzes Willam Blake's Poem: London. In "London", William Blake brings to light a city overrun by poverty and hardship. Blake discards the common, glorifying view of London and replaces it with his idea of truth. London is nothing more but a city strapped by harsh economic times where Royalty and other venues of power have allowed morality and goodness to deteriorate so that suffering and poverty are all that exist.


In "London", William Blake brings to light a city overrun by poverty and hardship. Blake discards the common, glorifying view of London and replaces it with his idea of truth. London is nothing more but a city strapped by harsh economic times where Royalty and other venues of power have allowed morality and goodness to deteriorate so that suffering and poverty are all that exist. It is with the use of three distinct metaphors; "mind-forg'd manacles", "blackning Church", and "Marriage hearse", that Blake conveys the idea of a city that suffers from physical and psychological imprisonment, social oppression, and an unraveling moral society.

According to William Richey the phrase "mind-forg'd manacles" has two contributors, the oppressors and the victims (1). Both contributors help set and reinforce the psychological distress and sense of entrapment each citizen of "London" suffers from. The oppressors are presented as disease, Royalty, the Church, and...

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This section contains 2,390 words
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As one of William Blake's Songs of Experience, the poem, 'London' has a naturally supressing atmosphere with its underlying theme surrounding the corruption, industrialisation and capitalism brought upon London town in the 1790's and the rage it provoked among society. Even Michael Ferber, author of 'London and it Politics' quotes Arthur Miller saying, 'there is more understanding of the nature of a capitalist society in a poem like 'I wander through each charter'd street' than in the whole of the Socialist literature'.

Reflecting on this quote, the use of the word 'charter'd' seems notably ambiguous at first glance as it illustrates the chaotic streets of London as something almost organised and without confusion. This sense of organisation associated with the word dates back to the Chartist Movement of the nineteenth-century, dominated by its People's Charter and structured revolutionary tactics. However, the word 'charter'd' in this sense is not without confusion in such a context. As Ferber says, 'one man's charter is another's manacle; charters are exclusive' and this is a perfectly valid comment; when one man is given rights it is almost certain the consequence will be another's are removed. In a sense this shines a light on the nature of English society in the nineteenth-century. When the state believed to be 'chartering' the streets and creating stability, they were in fact only prompting further unrest and distancing themselves further from the needs of society.

Similarly, the word 'charter'd' can also have connotations of hiring and leasing which emphasises how the city is claiming to own its people and suggests the unjust nature of capitalism in its infancy with money being taken from the majority, the working classes, and transferred to the minority of aristocracy through taxation. This lack of freedom and essential funds is essentially highlighted through the use of the word 'wander' which illuminates the idea of isolation, vulnerability and predominantly slavery. In a sense, this stresses the exploitation of labourers throughout the industrialisation period, with Ferber commenting that it was prompted by 'the monopolistic and exploitative practices of England's commercial empire'. In every way, the opening line of the poem encompasses, more philosophically, Marx's view on society that it mirrors its economic base; for instance if we are surrounded by a corrupted economical system, in this case dominated by capitalism, our workers will become alienated and the aspect of equality throughout humanity will be evaporated.

Additionally, the way the first stanza is structured compliments the undercurrents of depression and ultimate unrest mentioned. The use of the words 'wander', 'charter'd' and 'mark' all contribute to the sombre atmosphere with the long, drawn out, 'A' sound conjuring up a sense of lethargy, prompting the reader to almost imagine the man's 'cry' of despair. Furthermore, the repetition of the word, 'mark' is particularly disturbing as it emphasises how the people are constantly branded with visible signs of misery and 'woe'. The way the word shifts from the verb formation to the noun in line 4 can also stand to emphasise how the narrator is not just an apathetic spectator but acting as one of the sufferers himself, immediately making the poem seem more personal.

As the poem enters its second stanza, the sense of suffering and hopelessness is only emphasised further. The immediate introduction to the repeated 'every' instantly stresses how no one is immune from such destruction and imprisonment; even the reader is caught up in the action with the constant references to sounds, making escape that much harder as we cannot shut our ears to what is going on; the reader is made to endure and participate in the action instead of passively observing it. In particular, it is powerful to hear the words, 'in every ban' which could be referencing excommunication by the church, as it illuminates how the church, a persons only sanctuary, is being removed from them, establishing even more this sense of isolation among society. However, it is more likely to be seen as a metaphor for corruption and a criticism of the institutionalised world or more simply capitalism. From a Marxist perspective, such an institution would been seen as a key feature of a capitalist society and equally supports the Marxist critic Althusser when he says, 'the power of the state is also maintained more subtly, by seeming to secure the internal consent of the citizen using.ideological structures.such as churches' Therefore, it can be said that the presence of this corrupt religious structure is the tool constraining the thoughts and actions of the people of London.

However, possibly the most potent image of entrapment comes with the picture of 'mind-forged manacles'. There is a strong sense here that the people were creating their own fear, their own mental chains, prompted by the harsh capitalist authority to terrify them into committing to intensive, hard labour to make their industrial businesses boom. As such a phrase ends with 'I hear' and the 'I' figure after no intervention from the narrator throughout the stanza, it emphasises the shock and overwhelmed responses to such human suffering where people could not find the words to react to what was happening around them. Intrinsically, the quote could also be seen to represent the typical Marxist view that the working classes could not rise up against the bourgeoisie, in the corrupted capitalist world they were surrounded by, as they had them convinced that society could not be changed and that they were free, only imagining their own exploitation. This evidently supports the well known quote from Karl Marx that 'No mind is free, they only perceive it to be'.

In stanza 3 of the poem, the tone intensifies with the giving of further harsh examples of corruption in society. It begins as though in mid-sentence, emphasising to the reader that the list is a never-ending one, prompting an even bleaker view of England in the nineteenth-century. The opening phrase in the stanza introduces us to the 'chimney-sweeper's cry every blackening church appalls' which can be taken literally in the respect that the sweeps made the church look noticeably blackened, however it can also be seen more metaphorically in that the church's reputation was being besmirched by their blatant lack of response to the corruption of society with its subsequent interest in child labour. The word 'appalls' only emphasises this, meaning the cover that is laid over a coffin, influencing the reader to think of the church as effectively dead, burying its traditional principles in order to satisfy the capitalist phenomenon.

The reference to 'the hapless soldier's sigh runs in blood down palace walls' is similarly powerful. The deliberate use of sibilance provides an onomatopoeic hiss that conjures a particularly sinister atmosphere to emphasise the soldier's on-going weakness, being forced into battle for a country they no longer appreciate and are appreciated by. The addition of 'runs in blood down palace walls' is a particularly strong image as it shows how the soldiers blood is symbolically marking the palace walls, and most importantly the walls of the ultimate power, making it obvious to the whole of society that death and suffering is ever present all around them.

The final stanza begins in 'midnight streets' setting up an ominous atmosphere from the outset, yet the talk of 'the youthful harlot's curse blasts the new-born infant's tear' is particularly striking. The image of the harlot is again looked on with some sympathy for the fact that 'youthful' is placed before it; she is being pushed into such mature acts when she herself has not matured. As a result of her actions, she has cursed her child for she will never feel love towards it; it has been produced as a result of business and not out of genuine love. Essentially this can be seen as a perversion of maternity and more generally a metaphor concerning the sexual exploitation of women by the ruling elite. Blake's phrasing could be insinuating the sexually transmitted infections common amongst prostitutes of this time with the talk of her curse blasting the 'new-born infants tear' and subsequently their prominent guilt felts towards a child whom they knew would be infected with the same disease when born.

The phrase that ends the entire poem is possibly the most significant, the 'marriage hearse'. The phrase is an obvious oxymoron describing on the one hand a joyous and cheerful occasion comparing it with an uncomfortable image of death and unhappiness. Essentially this suggests that marriage prompts the death of love, in its most symbolic form, whereby the typical bourgeois relationship is surrounded by hypocrisy, with the husband frequently disowning his wife to pursue his other desires.

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