London by William Blake


London is a poem written by William Blake and published in Songs of Experience in 1794. It is one of the few poems in Songs of Experience that does not have a corresponding poem in Songs of Innocence.

William Blake was a poet and artist most known for his illuminated works, many of which were religious in nature. He was against organised religion for a variety of reasons, including the Church’s refusal to support young people compelled to labour in London. Blake lived and worked in the capital, thus he was presumably in a strong position to write openly about the problems that people faced there.

Songs of Innocence and Experience Blake’s beautifully illustrated and hand-printed volume of poems, released in 1794, intended to portray the “Two Contrary States of the Human Soul” Songs of Innocence is a portion of poetry with a cheerful tone that praises love, infancy, and nature. The poems in Songs of Experience clearly contrast and demonstrate the effects of modern living on people and nature. Blake addresses a variety of themes, including hazardous industrial circumstances, child labour, prostitution, and poverty.

The French Revolution In 1789, the French people rose up against the monarch and nobility, violently overturning those in power. Many people considered the French Revolution as a model of how regular, underprivileged people could seize power. Blake alludes to the London revolution, hinting that the experience of living in the city may ignite a revolution on its streets.

Short Summary

In the first stanza, Blake introduced his reader to the narrator as he wanders around the chartered society. A society in which he looks has “marks of woe.”

In the second stanza, Blake repeatedly uses the terms “single” and “cry” to symbolise the despair that hangs over the entire world in politics and economics.

In the third stanza, the “chimney-sweepers lament” symbolises the world seeking to clean the ashes that cause their despair. Blake uses the image of “blackening church” to reflect the loss of innocence and the rejection of religion by the world.

The use of soldiers creates a picture of war. The “hapless soldier’s sigh” symbolises how men are drawn into the war and have no choice but to represent their country.

The last stanza of “London” solves the meaning of the poem. The “youthful harlot’s curse” symbolizes how the shameful deeds of the youth will affect the next generation.

The poet is shocked to see in his midnight wanderings through the chartered streets of London the poor young girls sell their chastity to earn their daily bread and butter. We are harlots in this sense and lead a miserable life. And they dislike children and dislike love. They don’t want to see them born.

Summary of London

William Blake’s 1792 poem “London” depicts a civilization in which humanity are confined, abused, and sick.

The speaker makes observations as he goes around the streets of London. He detects hopelessness in the emotions of individuals he meets, as well as dread and repression in their words. A soldier’s blood stains the external walls of the monarch’s home, while the wailing cry of the chimney sweep is a rebuke to the Church. Nothing sounds better at night: the cursing of prostitutes corrupts the unborn infant and taints the “Marriage hearse”

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Blake opens the poem by discussing the economic system before moving on to the ramifications of selling people in a suffocating exploitation system. The repetition of a word is one method for emphasising its meaning to the maximum extent possible. Blake uses the phrase “charter’d” to describe the Thames Street and River in the first stanza. The name lends the river and roads a juridical vibe, as though they are legally protected and privately owned. Blake then goes on to describe how the people exhibit visible “marks of weakness and woe” which are analogous to bodily signs of grief and distress. In the second stanza, Blake emphasises the word five times. This word gives us a sense of belonging to everyone who is in pain. The report claims that no one in London is immune to exploitation and disease. The words “mind-forg’d manacles” emphasise this notion, representing a society shackled by ideology and the existing quo. Because the stanza itself adheres to the strict iambic tetrameter metre and A-B rhyme pattern, there is no deviation from the norm. The precise adherence to poetic metre in this stanza contrasts sharply with the irregular metre in the third stanza.

In the third stanza, Blake mentions a number of societal jobs that are affected by the instability, including the Chimney-sweep, Church, and Soldier. The job titles in the verse are capitalised, making them pronouns and personified. The chimney sweeper is a figure of pity and industrialisation because of the ever-increasing number of filthy chimneys that blacken the entire city with soot. As it strives to deny or gloss over Blake’s picture of a harsh smoke-belching economy, the Church’s reputation is “black’ning” The metaphor of Soldier’s Blood on the Palace Walls depicts not just the mistreatment of soldiers, but also a bad leader of the country who causes a broken community. The third stanza’s composition, which no longer adheres to a strict iambic tetrameter metre, exemplifies this disjunction. This broken metre persists until the final stanza, when Blake adopts the enjambment technique to emphasise the “Harlot’s curse” and “Infant’s tear” It is now dark, and the young Harlot has no way of embracing her infant because it is the result of commerce, not love. She passes on her dissatisfaction to her child, who will undoubtedly pass it on to future generations. She also infects adulterous couples, giving rise to the potent phrase “the Marriage hearse” The marriage hearse is an oxymoron that refers to the idea of a joyous marriage being destroyed by death and disease, culminating in the marriage being a funeral procession for love and freedom. Blake’s poem is meant to highlight the need for vision in order to lift London out of its misery and away from economic exploitation.

William Blake’s poems are examples of poetry that are designed to make a point about how society has deteriorated and that a better alternative must be found. Even though these works were written over sixty years ago, we may still find them relevant today. Although William Blake’s poetry has lost most of its shock value in today’s culture, we may still be able to identify to the image of mechanisation with the creeping robotic arms spreading terrible infections. If we can feel the poetry’s impact in 2011, imagine how much of an impact and shock value the works would have had on their original audiences.

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The poem is broken into four quatrains, each with alternate rhyming lines. The repetition in the poem is the most apparent stylistic feature, and it serves to emphasise the pervasiveness of the atrocities narrated by the speaker.

Questions and Answers

Q. This poem, like “The Lamb” and “The Tyger,” was originally published as part of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Judging from the poem’s tone and theme, which book do you think “London” was published in?
Ans. “London” was originally considered part of Songs of Experience.

Q. Who does the speaker blame for the pain and strife he hears and sees on London’s streets?
Ans. The speaker points to two different causes for the grief and strife he witnesses: the Church (line ten) and Royalty (line twelve).

Q. What is ironic about the poem’s final image of “the Marriage hearse”?
Ans. The image combines the beauty of love (Marriage) with the sorrow and destruction of death (hearse). The irony lies in that marriage marks the beginning of life together, while a hearse marks the end.

Q. What does the repetition of words throughout the poem do to its message?
Ans. The repetition that prevails in the poem emphasizes the horrors and evils the speaker observes by making them seem abundantly common.

Q. After reading this poem, how would you describe the speaker’s attitude toward London?
Ans. The speaker presents nothing positive about London. In lines three and four, for instance, he reports that in every face he sees only “Marks of weakness, marks of woe.”

Q. What does William Blake describe in the poem London?
Ans. “London” is one of the best-known poems of a Revolutionary English poet William Blake. The poem describes a journey through the streets of London in which he portrays the negative aspects of that city. In the poem, the city is presented as a pained, oppressive and deprived city. In the city, all that the speaker finds is deprivation and misery. The poem also talks about child labour and slavery. The poem describes the gloomy experiences of the poet during his life in London.

Q. What does the poet see in the chartered streets of London?
Ans. The poet is surprised to see the poor young girls sell their chastity to earn their daily bread and butter in his midnight wanderings through the chartered streets of London. In this way, they are harlots and live a wretched life. And they dislike children, and they dislike love. They don’t want to see them born to them.

Q. What is the theme of London by William Blake?
Ans. The major theme of the poem “London” is that the city is a gloomy and unhappy place. Things such as “hapless,” “weakness,” “woe” and “manacles” add to this grim context. Also words such as “the blackening church” and “thro’ midnight streets” very clearly represent darkness.

Q. What did William Blake think of London?
Ans. The poem London shows the true feelings of William Blake regarding the world in which he lived. This is all universal and eternal because every society has limits this imposes on human life. The speaker makes it very clear that he thinks that the government has too much power and that society is too rigid.

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Q. What is the tone of the poem?
Ans. “London” is a poem by British writer William Blake written in 1794. The poem has a bleak, tragic tone and reflects Blake’s frustration and unhappiness with his life in London. Blake describes the disquieting socio-economic and moral decline in London and the increasing sense of hopelessness inhabitants.

Q. Describe the phrase Marriage hearse used in the final stanza of the poem.
Ans. In the final stanza, the phrase “Marriage hearse” is a kind of oxymoron or joining of contrasts. The concept behind this term that a baby is born to a mother who is a prostitute and she curses her newborn infant … So even birth in “London” carries with it the taint of death.

Q. Why does William Blake use repetition in London?
Ans. Blake uses repetition in London to reinforces his belief that everything is held by the dominant class and that nothing is free of charge. The same constraint occurs in the language itself. The thudding repeat of Blake reflects the city’s choquant atmosphere.

Q. What type of poem is London?
Ans. The poem “London” is composed of four stanzas each consisting of four verses. The lines are written in iambic tetrameter and rhymed ABAB. This means that we may describe the poem as being comprised of four open iambic tetrameter quatrains.

Q. What is the imagery of the poem London?
Ans. Blake’s London is a dark and sombre place. The descriptions establish an image of a dreary city filled with death. Around every corner, the narrator hears screaming, and phrases like “curse,” “plagues” and “hearse” conjure up images of death.

Q. What are the mind-forged manacles?
Ans. The poetic phrase “mind-forged manacles” means anything that restricts us, that inhibits us from moving, that keeps us restrained or the limitations that we set on yourselves in terms of dreams and goals. We do all this because of our mindset or fear. We impose these things in our own minds. In fact, forging is simply the heating and hammering method of metals in order to weld them together. If the manacles are “mind-forg’d”, it means that we make them ourselves.

Q. What does Chartered mean in London?
Ans. The “chartered streets” refers to the commercial management structure, or charters, that existed in the city. The same framework also applies to nature: “the Thames chartered.” Blake claims that only the ancient, unburdened river is handled for profit.

Q. How does the poet attack three institutions in the poem London explain?
Ans. The poet exposes that in the society a young girl was engaged in prostitution who was yet a youth. Overall, the poet has criticized modern society by condemning the church, government, and prevalent dark practices and values that created an unseen veil of misery and suffering in the minds of all.

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