“London” by William Blake is a forever green poetic piece. Published in 1974 in the Songs of Experience volume, William Blake has mastered the concept of negativity and darkness in this poem. Painting a realistic picture of London, the poet has captured the depression and sorrows lurking in every street, in a heart-striking manner. Depicted along the lines of oppression, poverty and misery, the poet has shared the cries that haunt the streets. Also, he talks about the blood that runs down the walls and the curses of the prostitutes. It stirs to bring back the reader into reality, realizing how social ills have failed to allow us build a good society.
Major Themes in “London”
While the overall tone documents misery, depression and failure of humanity, the major themes can be clearly manifested as:
- Social Woes
As the poet meanders along the streets of London past River Thames, the themes also take a route of misery, fear and pain. Etched in woes and depravity, the Industrial revolution has snatched the joys and blessings of life as people are oppressed and hopeless. He throws light on the darker side of humanity by writing about the child labor. He explains how church sweepers cry out because they are forced into work and their childhood is exploited.
Moreover, the soldiers are as much as a victim who are bleeding in order to keep the royal palace safe but their mournful cries and wounds are disregarded. At midnight, the prostitutes curse their children who are innocent, but even the infants have developed a fear of the society around. The people in the society are drowning in despair. They realize how they have to sell their bodies, blood and childhood only to survive in a hardened society.
Analysis of Literary and Poetic Elements in “London”
To add depth and layer to his poetry, William Blake has used many literary devices. Their usage provoke the reader to delve deep and feel what sorrows the poet has tried to capture.
The foremost one is assonance. By repetition of vowel sounds in a single line, the poet has made it comprehendible for the reader. This adds more meaning and symmetry in the poem. For instance, the sound of /e/ in “In every voice: in every ban.” The sound of /o/ in “How the youthful Harlots curse” show assonance.
Alliteration is yet another literary device that helps capture the attention of the reader. Successive group of words having a quick repetition of consonant sounds focuses the readers’ attention on the particular line to stress upon it’s meaning. The sound of /r/ in “In every cry of every Man.” The sound of /k/ in “Marks of weakness, marks of woe” depicts words linked thematically.
Offering tangible portraying of certain emotions and feelings, William Blake has employed the use of imagery to heighten the impact of the poem. Visual imagery is used, such as; “I wander thro’ each charter’d street”, and “Runs in blood down Palace walls.” Whereas, auditory imagery is also applied in certain lines such as “How the Chimney-sweepers cry”
Furthermore, for a profound insight into his thoughts, the poet profusely uses symbolism to signify certain social ills and misfortunes of different people in the society. Here, “soldier’s sigh” symbolizes the state of frustration, “chimney sweeper” is the symbol of death, darkness, child labor and destruction. Likewise, “harlot’s curse” symbolizes the prostitute’s pathetic life experiences accompanied by cursing cries.
Quite a common literary device, metaphors are a remarkable way to draw up a comparison between objects that are different in nature. “The mind-forg’d manacles I hear” beautifully describes the pain and restraints on man.
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In-depth Analysis of “London” by William Blake
The poem opens up by presenting a scenario of London streets, as the poet sauntered across River Thames. The charter’d streets and charter’d Thames, hint towards the Industrial Revolution in Britain. It depicts how London is controlled by certain laws as if caging the local people living there. There is no freedom in either land or water, and this oppression has been heightened to the fact that it is now evident in every face he comes across. Weakness, woes, depression, despair and hopelessness have engulfed the people of London.
Through the repetition of the word every, William Blake stresses how every person in the society is affected. In the cries and woes of every man, and every new-born infant, he is forced to hear the mind-forg’d manacles. These voices of the people, gives way to reveal the psychological restrictions and imprisonments that have suppressed them into living a life of fear and corruption. The poet believes that the people of London are not only enslaved by the laws and the government’s systems, rather their own mind’s shackles have led them into a life of extreme misery and longing for liberation from oppression.
This stanza depicts the sorrowful image of how deep the British society had sunk into the arms of distress and melancholy. The poet describes the chimney sweepers who cry, which were usually children forced to abandon their childhood and compelled into labor. Their cries are revolting against the blackened Church which has demoralized their life. The next two lines focus on the coercion of soldiers who are also troubled and worried as their blood oozes out on the commands of the royal forces, but no one from the Palace or the Church takes heed of these grave sufferings. Social and political exploitation are two major concerns addressed in this stanza, because the people have been abused by their commitment to these two institutes.
The streets at midnight are echoing with the curses of the youthful harlots, which suggests how young girls are corrupted into prostitution unwillingly. Their cries and curses are because of a new-born infant. This particular theme attacks the reader to forge his mind into the social ills prevailing at that time. The tears of the new-born indicate how the oppressed are cursed and ignored. As the poem draws to an end, William Blake has presented the contrasting, yet pitiful state of marriage hearse as he compares marriage to death. He criticizes how the harlot has sold her body before the marriage, and how the sexual diseases spread to destroy the sacred pact of marriage. Thus, in whole, it represents the toughened heart of London with no soft corner for anyone.
To conclude, it can be rightly stated that love is a powerful emotion; it can control, reshape and redefine the course of someone’s life. Love has been portrayed as a negative force in this poem. The speaker wonders how it forces a rose to follow a path full of troubles and miseries. It is due to love’s selfish approach; the crimson rose was sickened and destroyed. This symbolic destruction may symbolize the devastation caused by hypocrisy, secrecy, deceit, and pain.