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William Blake and William Wordsworth were both crucial figures of the Romantic era. Identified by its emphasis on enthusiasm, feeling and creativity, the Romantic Movement took place in Europe in the late eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Blake’s “London”( 1794) and Wordsworth’s “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”( 1803) are fine examples of poems from the Romantic age, as both poets share a sense of psychological involvement in their works.
However, similarities in between the 2 do not extend beyond their typical style: London.
Blake’s dark and bitter portrayal of the city contrasts sharply with Wordsworth’s awe-struck account of a daybreak viewed from Westminster Bridge. Contrasts can be found in all aspects of the 2 poems, and both poets utilized a range of methods to efficiently express their very various sensations about the sights and noises of London.
The tone in Blake’s London is among bitterness and negativeness, with him utilizing such words as “weakness” and “concern”. The theme of the poem is a wide description of London, however likewise particularly focuses upon individuals and how they live their lives.
The human element of the poem is introduced early on with “in every face”. The poet has an extremely subtle method at getting his message of corruption throughout to the reader, but the sensation that is gotten from the poem is among a strong nature.
London includes four quatrains (four line alternately rhyming verses), with fairly brief lines, emphasising the lack of embellishment and emotion in the poem. There is a stiff structure and rhyme scheme throughout the poem.
The rhyme scheme is clear (ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH) and the rhyme itself is strong, rhyming such words as “curse” and “hearse” together, thus referring Blake’s harsh views on London life. Blake uses iambic pentameter, except for the third quatrain, where dactylic pentameter is used rather. This offers the poem a strong and steady rhythm as it reads, which helps to stress the dullness and duty of the lives Blake describes.
The language is relatively easy to understand, and is not archaic, for example “in every city of every man”. However, some language is used that is not in use in the present day e.g. “woe”, “blights” and “harlot”. The language is surprisingly accessible for a poem that was written over two hundred years ago. Many emotive words are used such as “cry”, “fear”, “blood” and “plagues”. Use of the word plague would have been particularly strong at the time of writing, as the poem was written only 150 years after the Great Plague itself. Blake uses lots of adjectives e.g. “youthful Harlot” and “hapless soldier”, giving a clear picture of what he thinks London is about.
The imagery that is used is mainly human, “hapless soldier’s sigh” for example. When reading the poem, a clear picture is depicted of London without referring directly to London, but instead through the description of people and sounds. Lots of sound imagery is used: “I hear” is mentioned twice, the word “cry” is repeated three times and there is a “soldier’s sigh”. Also, by describing the human situation, Blake leads the reader to infer that London is not a very nice place, because, for example, there are “youthful harlots”, which demonstrate how innocent youth has been corrupted by the city. This is also evident when it says ” every infant’s cry of fear”. The soldier’s sigh, which “runs on blood down palace walls” is Blake’s way of exposing the guilt and responsibility of the wealthy (palace), ruling classes.
Repetition is used a lot: “every” is used five times, to emphasise the negative situation that Blake is alluding to is widespread and affects everyone. The use of the word “cry” three times to stress sadness and desperation of the situation. The repetition of lines five to seven ensures that the reader is aware of the seriousness of the situation Blake is describing. The punctuation in the poem is quite simple. Stanzas end with an end – stopped line. Full stops and commas are used widely, but no exclamation marks. Simplistic punctuation and lack of embellishment adds to the cold, realistic portrait of Blake’s London. An elision is an omission of letters to aid rhythm. Blake uses a lot of elisions: ” I wander thro’ “, ” each chart’d street “. This demonstrates the importance of rigid structure and rhythm to the sense of this poem.
In Wordsworth’s Composed Upon Westminster Bridge the tone is positive and there is a sense of awe and respect for the city demonstrated by the use of such words as “majesty” and “splendour” in the poem. The general theme of the poem is again of London, but this time focussing on aestheticism, nature and architecture, which can be seen from the view from Westminster Bridge at dawn.
Composed Upon Westminster Bridge is a sonnet. The rhyme scheme used is ABBA ABBA DEDEDE. The rhyme is generally clear and regular, although Wordsworth does use para-rhyme in lines two and three:
“Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty”
Although the rhyme scheme is regular, Composed Upon Westminster Bridge does not feature any apparent rhythm pattern, and the poem has an almost prose-like quality, which makes the reader think of the natural, flowing, harmonious images Wordsworth is describing.
Wordsworth’s language is in places quite old fashioned:
“This city now doth, like a garment ,wear
The beauty of the morning”
The language is also more elaborate than Blake’s, for example, Blake’s “Thames does flow”, whereas according to Wordsworth:
“The river glideth at his own sweet will”
Wordsworth’s language is also very emotive e.g. “majesty”, “splendour” and “mighty heart”, and he uses a lot of adjectives, e.g. “smokeless air”, “bright” and “glittering”. Wordsworth uses a lot of natural imagery in the poem e.g. “Earth has not a thing to show more fair”, “the beauty of the morning”, “the fields” and “the sky”. This helps to convey a sense of harmony between the urban and the natural. Further, through personification and pathetic fallacy, Wordsworth is able to give human characteristics to the city, adding to the sense that London is a living organism, a part of the natural environment. Personification is evident in lines four to five:
“This city doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning”
In lines nine to ten:
“Never did sun more beautifully steep
in his first splendour”
In line thirteen ” the very houses seem asleep”. In the last line of the poem, Wordsworth speaks of the “mighty heart” of the city, which further adds to the sense that London is a living organism. Pathetic fallacy can be seen in line twelve, “The river glideth at his own sweet will”.
Wordsworth uses a lot of enjambment:
“Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty”
This lends a smooth, flowing and gentle quality to the poem, and supports the emphasis placed upon nature in the poem. Similes are also used, e.g. the morning is described as being “like a garment”. In this way, Wordsworth is able to detract from the commonly held idea that London is grim and threatening, and instead promote the idea that the city is friendlier and more harmonised with nature. Wordsworth also uses contrasts to emphasise this harmony:
“Ships, towers, domes , theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky”.
Use of punctuation in this poem is very interesting. Wordsworth only uses one full stop throughout, preferring instead semi-colons and commas, all of which help the poem to run smoothly. The poem also features three exclamation marks, which help to exaggerate the central idea. This effect is amplified by the inclusion of the expression “Dear God!”. All this helps Wordsworth to express how strongly he feels about London.
The differences between these two poems are clear. For example, whereas Blake’s tone is dark and bitter, Wordsworth’s is awe-struck and celebratory. Differences also arise in terms of the theme or central idea of each poem. London deals with the human aspect of the city. It is set at night, and virtually ignores the environment of London. In this way, Blake is able to highlight the effect the city has on its people, and, by leaving the city itself undescribed, emphasises its position as a cold, uncaring place. In contrast, Wordsworth focuses entirely on the aesthetics of London at dawn, and the relationship between the urban environment and nature. By removing the human aspect of the city, Wordsworth can ignore the difficult lives of its people (as described by Blake) and concentrate solely on the physical and natural aspects instead (note the ‘smokeless air’).
The two poems are also structured differently, and feature variations in terms of rhythm and rhyme. Composed Upon Westminster Bridge is a sonnet, with a generally clear rhyme scheme and no apparent rhythm pattern. By using a single stanza, and an almost prose-like style, Wordsworth is able to express a flowing, smooth quality, mirroring the free, unrestrained natural aspects he deals with in the poem. London, on the other hand, features four quatrains, and is rigidly structured in terms of rhythm and rhyme. This allows Blake to highlight the monotony of the lives he discusses in the poem, and reflects the sense of duty and lack of free will involved in the struggles faced by the city’s inhabitants (note the inclusion of a ‘soldier’, some one with no control over his own life).
Blake’s language is generally simple and easily comprehensible. By avoiding the elaborate language preferred by Wordsworth, Blake emphasises the lack of hope or joy in his city. Wordsworth, in contrast, favours a very convoluted style of language, which adds to the celebratory mood of the poem. In both cases, the poets use language to effectively convey their opinions about London. Also, both poets use a lot of adjectives, which is characteristic of the involved, creative style of the Romantics. Imagery is central to both poems.
However, Blake and Wordsworth use different methods to create a detailed picture of London for the reader. Wordsworth chooses to concentrate on natural, familiar images, and through the personification of these natural images, gives London a softer, less threatening identity. Blake chooses to paint a picture of London by describing the sounds which can be heard, and by giving details of the people that live there. Interestingly, Blake is able to give a very comprehensive image of London, without discussing the city directly. In this way, London is portrayed as nothing more then an influence on its people. Blake, unlike Wordsworth, does not see the city as an organism in its own right, and this is emphasised by his use of imagery.
Finally, literary devices: both Blake and Wordsworth employ clever use of literary techniques to aid the expression of their feelings towards London. Wordsworth uses enjambment to give Composed Upon Westminster Bridge a flowing, natural feel, and punctuation is used to maximise the celebratory tone (i.e. only one full-stop, use of exclamation marks). Blake uses repetition to emphasise his idea of the monotonous hardship and misery of the people of London. His use of simple, unembellished punctuation helps to further convey this idea, by highlighting the rigidity and restriction which govern the lives of London’s inhabitants. Elisions are frequently employed to aid the rhythm, which demonstrates the importance of a rigid structure to the sense of London, in complete contrast with Composed Upon Westminster Bridge.
Although London and Composed Upon Westminster Bridge both deal with the subject of London at a similar time in history, they share very little common ground beyond this. Blake’s grim, desperate city seems a million miles away from Wordsworth’s elaborate celebration of a city at dawn. Although both poets use similar techniques to express their very different feelings about the sights and sounds of London, these techniques, such as imagery and literary devices, give different effects in each poem, depending on how they have been used. These two poems may seem to be very similar, but Blake and Wordsworth have used lots of different methods to demonstrate beyond doubt their very different feelings about the sights and sounds of London.
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