It was William Blake who composed the lyrical poem ‘London’ that describes hopelessness in the faces of Londoners as well as fear and repression in their voices.
It is one of the 27 poems from his ‘Songs of Experience. In terms of structure and form, ‘London’ is a short poem of just four stanzas (quatrain) in iambic tetrameter. It comprises a rhyme scheme of abab.
|Poem Type||Short Poem|
|Main Theme||(I) Urban Life, (II) Childhood, as well as, (III) Corruption|
|Rhyme scheme||iambic tetrameter ( abab)|
As far as the poem’s content is concerned; the poem ‘London’ reveals the dreadful, horrible, gloomy/dark, and pathetic condition/picture of the city and its inhabitants’ poor low-class people.
In other words, it is a description of a corrupt(ed) society. The power of materialism as well as the contrast between society’s upper and working-class sections dominates it (the society).
William Blake composed this poem from a very negative perspective, people of such a society exist in a dark as well as an oppressive world. As a result, they suffer the consequences of the corruption of those (upper-class people who are) in the position of power.
The Poem ‘London’ Summary and Analysis
In the opening stanza, the speaker of ‘London’ says that he wanders through each chartered/designated street of a place that is located near the chartered river Thames that is flowing.
He (clearly) sees/observes signs of weaknesses and sorrow in the faces of (all) those people whom he meets in that locality (London).
In the second stanza of the poem, ‘London’ William Blake uses anaphora. The speaker of the poem is capable of hearing the sadness or pain in the cries of all people of London and those of its infants as well.
Actually, all the voices of this city, its laws as well as restrictions that are placed on its people; he (the poet/speaker) does not sense fail in sensing the feelings of Londoners who are being tortured or oppressed by its life.
In the third stanza of ‘London’, the speaker says that he (also) hears cries of ‘Chimney-sweepers’. In this way, the sorrow, as well as misery of these young chimney-sweepers, is the cause of shame for the church authorities.
Moreover, the speaker further talks about those unfortunate British soldiers who die in vain. He imagines that such soldiers’ blood is running down the wall of a palace.
But, according to the speaker (stanza 4), the most notable among the people who are suffering in the streets of London are the prostitutes. He is capable of hearing their (prostitutes) midnight cries.
They swear as well as a curse at their pathetic situation. Consequently, these miserable sounds bring sorrow/tear “to the newborn Infants” of the prostitutes. The poet concludes the poem with a superb/fantastical image of a carriage. The carriage shuttles love as well as death together around the city of 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
The Poem ‘London’ Themes
(I) Urban Life, (II) Childhood, as well as, (III) Corruption are the themes of William Blake’s eminent Poem ‘London’. It is ‘corruption’ that relates to ‘childhood’ as well as ‘the broader nature of life’ in this city.
The very first line of ‘London’ clarifies that the poet has a widely negative view of what it is like to live as well as work in the city. It is noteworthy that misery surrounded William Blake, and mostly due to the way the adult world ruins childhood’s innocence.
In their lives, these children are seen in tension/distress. They were forced to deal with the sins of their family members as well as the darkness of the urban streets also.
The speaker of this poem finds a presence of sorrow/grief wherever he wanders/goes in London. It is something that he understands (or knows) is not necessary. There is no doubt that this world may be happier as well as freer. But, the darker side of humanity has made that impossible in ‘London’.
William Blake criticises three evils of contemporary society. They are – ‘Cruelty’ as it reflects in the wretched condition of young chimney-sweepers, ‘War’ as represented by the (British) soldiers, as well as ‘Lust’ represented in the prostitutes of the city; and they (harlots) are a threat to the chastity (or purity) of the marriage as well as children’s happiness.
The chimney sweepers, soldiers, as well as prostitutes/harlots are poet’s types of oppressed-characteristic victims of a system that is based not on brotherhood but on fear/terror.
The churches support the miserable/condemned life of the chimney sweepers; the royal court demands the death of the soldiers; whereas the marriage laws force on the profession of the prostitutes.