Essay William Blake London

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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The poem that I have selected to comment on is “”, by William Blake. The first part of this paper is dedicated to the personal analysis of the poem; and the second part is assigned to the treatment of the context of the poem according to the author’s complete work, the place it occupies, the importance of the poem within the poet’s life and the relation of the poem with today’s life.

I wandered through each chartered street,

Near where the chartered does flow,

A mark in every face I meet,

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,

In every infant's cry of fear,

In every voice, in every ban,

The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper's cry

Every blackening church appals,

And the hapless soldier's sigh

Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear

How the youthful harlot's curse

Blasts the new-born infant's tear,

And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.


In the poem, William Blake is principally describing a very corrupted society dominated by the power of materialism and the contrast between upper and working-class sections of society. It is written from a very negative perspective where people who exist in a dark and oppressive world, suffering the consequences of corruption of those in positions of power. The problem is that they do not realize this is happening to them. For this reason, he is rejecting the idea of an ideological or perfect place to live and he wants people to be aware of the misery surrounding them. No wonderful streets, no pleasant people. A world with a very depressing atmosphere, where everything is poverty stricken. All these ideas are represented in one place: .

The poem is divided in four quatrains in iambic tetrameter, with a basic rhyme scheme starting a/b/a/b.

In the first quatrain, the author is talking about how he is walking through every transitory street. The adjective “chartered” seems to connote the importance of money to live everyday in this ephemeral world, where everything is focused around money, richness and its value to reach anything. But, in despite of the role of money has in the world and happiness because of its value, many people are dominated by sorrow and sadness. The verses “In every cry of every man” and “in every infant’s cry of fear” are examples of this fact. People are not happy. They are living in fear all the time, inside the dark of a society influenced by materialism. Human beings are loosing the real sense of life.

The materialism of words is reflected in the second quatrain with “the mind-forged manacles”, which represents people’s preoccupation for money and the dependence to the important institutions.

In the third quatrain, the author is comparing two different representations: a chimney-sweeper and a soldier. Both of them are archetypal that represent the most important institutions of that time: Monarchy and the Church, which are the reason of the suffering of human beings. This one has a clear connotation of power and manipulation in society.

The fourth quatrain represents the author talking again about what he hears metaphorically while he is walking through the street. “The youthful harlot’s curse” makes reference to the disease of syphilis, very frequent in that time, in the 18th century, which is the principal cause of death. The term “harlot” has negative connotations, as “curse”. It is interpreted as something which destroys life and society. Syphilis destroys life, whereas harlots destroy families, and family is the most important part in society, in this case, in English society. “The marriage-hearse” could be understood as a “vehicle in which love and desire combine with death and destruction” (Elite Skills classics, 2004).

The final idea of this poem is the claim of a free society, without any chains, without any kind of ideological condition. The message is to be free yourself from the restriction of your own mind and the conceptions to be able to find freedom.


The work where this poem is taken place is in “Songs of Innocence and of Experience”, published in 1794. The book combines two sets of poems related by the principle of contrast; a contrast between the state of “innocence” (childhood, idealism, hope) with poems as The Lamb or The Little Black Boy; and that of “Experience” (adulthood, disillusionment, social criticism and despair) as The Tyger and The Little Vagabond. Innocence is the world of the Lamb, the world of the true God of Love and Understanding, or Jesus, while Experience is the word of the false God, or the great negative influence (Skoletorget, 2004). The poem “” is clearly inside his last work, Experience, where he shows that if the institution and structure of a place is corrupt, then people can never have a chance for innocence (Plagiarist, 1998-2007). Within this context, it is necessary to point out that is the only poem from this collection without an innocent pair. This reiterates Blake’s disgust at the state of affairs in . There’s no nice innocent side (Plagiarist, 1998-2007).

His spiritual beliefs are evidenced in “Songs of Experience”, in which he shows his own distinction between the Old Testament God, whose restrictions he rejected, and the New Testament God; whom he saw as a positive influence (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia; “William Blake”; 28 Nov. 2007).

Blake’s affection for the Bible was accompanied by hostility for the established church. It was an early and profound influence on Blake, and would remain a source of inspiration throughout his life (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia; “William Blake”; 28 Nov. 2007). The last works are based on the idea of God and the symbolism of the vital relationship and unity between divinity and humanity. Blake designed his own mythology, which appears largely in his prophetic books. It was based mainly upon the Bible and on Greek mythology, to accompany his ideas about the everlasting Gospel. He believed that the joy of man glorified god and that the religious of this world is actually the worship of Satan (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia; “William Blake”; 28 Nov. 2007). Relating to the idea of humanity, Blake abhorred slavery and believed in racial and sexual equality. Several of his poems and printings express a notion of universal humanity. He retained an active interest in social and political events for all his life, but was often forced to resort to cloaking social idealism and political statements in Protestant mystical allegory (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia; “William Blake”, 28 Nov. 2007).

Many of the poems appearing in “Songs of Innocence” have a counterpart in “Songs of Experience” with opposing perspectives of the world. The disastrous end of the French Revolution caused Blake to lose faith in the goodness of mankind, explaining much of the volume’s sense of despair (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia; “Songs of Innocence and of Experience”; 28 Nov. 2007).

Relating to history, could be a place of honest work, where merchants and artisans were able to stand up as citizens, defending their rights against tyrannical authority. But citizens might be corrupted by the profits of war. As an imperial centre, and a harmony of war, also had a dark side for Blake. Even though was not really a factory town, he saw in it an emblem for the emerging Industrial Revolution’s pollution of the English land and oppression of the common people. He was powerfully influenced by the French and American revolutions, and his critique of the new modernity was a comprehensive one, ranging from imperialistic government, to industry, to the social relations of everyday life (W.W. Norton, 2005).

According to Blake’s legacy, like other great artists, he had a profound intuitive grasp of human psychology. More explicitly than any English writer before him, however, he pointed out the interrelationship of problems associated with cruelty, self-righteousness, sexual disturbance, social inequity, repression of energy by reason, and revolutionary violence. He identified all these ills as symptoms rather than causes: symptoms of the absence of love, the starvation of the spirit, and the fragmentation of both the individual personality and the human family. For Blake, the fragmentation and emptiness of most people's lives can best be understood through a myth of the Fall of Man. The prophet sees all the misery and bewilderment resulting from the Fall; his duty is both to identify the causes of evil and to dispel the illusion that it is inevitable: “The Nature of my Work is Visionary or Imaginative; it is an Endeavour to Restore what the Ancients called the Golden Age”. Blake dreamed dreams and saw visions not for escape but for change and renewal. The purpose of art, he insisted, is to enable all people to share in vision, to coordinate a prophetic insight into contemporary events with a visionary perception of how life might be different and better. With him, a few of his contemporaries were able to recognize that artistic innovations, unlike debates in Parliament or battles in , can unify and inspire a society to work for the New Age (W.W. Norton, 2005).

Blake’s poem becomes a critique of contemporary global capital and its encroachment upon all aspects of daily life (Roger Whitson, 2006). Moreover, largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake’s work is today considered seminal and significant in the history of both poetry and the visual arts. He was voted 38th in a poll of the 100 Greatest Britons organised by the BBC in 2002 (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia; “William Blake”; 28 Nov. 2007).


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-         “William Blake and visual culture”, Roger Whitson, 2006, Department of English.University of . 28-11-07:

-         “”, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 2005, James F. Knapp, . 28-11-07:

-         “William Blake”, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 28th November 2007, 28-11-07:

-         “Blake’s legacy”, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 2005, James F. Knapp, . 28-11-07:

-         “, by William Blake”, Robins, March 03 2006, , 28-11-07:

-“The life and works of William Blake”, Skoletorget, February 2004, 28-11-07:

-         “The Romantic Period”, The Norton Anthology of English literature, 2003-2007, Norton and company, 28-11-07:

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