The poem that I have selected to comment on is “London”, 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 Thames 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: London.


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 “London” 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 London is the only poem from this collection without an innocent pair. This reiterates Blake’s disgust at the state of affairs in London. 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, London 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, London also had a dark side for Blake. Even though London 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 Europe, 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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