London- by William Blake Essay
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William Blake had a relatively pastoral upbringing, which evokes Wordsworth’s ideas. He was a Christian yet he entertained different thoughts that went against the general view. He campaigned against the exploitation of children in factories. Like a prophet from the Old Testament, he is an expert at finding every little peccadillo in the world. For him, there seems to be nothing positive about London to write about. This poem is taken from a book of poems called ‘Songs of Experience.
In London, every street and part of land is owned by someone. Money, power and ownership are the three factors that merge together to hold this city together. This goes against Christianity and the message that Jesus gave, that money is not the way to spiritual happiness. ‘Wander’ suggests someone who is dispossessed and uninterested with the life that they lead. The way he describes London shows that it is controlled by bureaucratic laws. This is shown by the mentioning of “chartered streets”, charters were given to people who were richer or more powerful than most and it allowed them to control the streets of London.
This line outlines city’s wealth and businesslike atmosphere.
The city seems quite unlike the celestial image that Wordsworth once created. It is owned by man, not God and seems rigid and ruthless. ‘Mark’ means notice, it is also the name of Jesus’ disciple, and marking work or maps. ‘Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’ The word ‘marks’ is repeated to emphasize these meanings. This repetition, thudding and oppressive, also reflects the suffocating atmosphere of the city. The voice of experience appears to come through, noticing marks on people, physical scars and signs of poverty, sing and slavery.
The Bible suggests marks of sin should be punished; they are a symbol of damnation, however for many of the people who live in London that bear the marks are unavoidable. It is the poor people who are the most vulnerable to sin, contrary to what Jesus preached, as they are forced to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. The marks that are awarded to good work and the marks on maps/plans are all symbols of London vigorously progressing business and trades, which are prepared to ignore acts of sin, so as to keep the benefits of their trade.
In the second stanza, the words ‘every’ and ‘cry’ are repeated, like an obsessive mantra. Not only is there physical slavery, but the people of London, poor and rich, are trapped in a compulsive, mental race for money. There is a link to the French Revolution, where the peasants were attempting to break free from the manacles that bond them. The children that are born into this world have a horrible life of poverty and squalor to face with. They have a fearful upbringing that leads to an even more awful life. The manacles are associated with chains and slaves. But they are not real; they are just in everybody’s mind, mentally restricting everyone. The poor are unable to get out of their restricting mental box. The English society is obsessed by class and hierarchy. The rigidly controlled society enforces the very submission that it wants to break away from. So the law is not entirely to blame, as people can force slavery upon themselves.
The penultimate stanza attacks institutions and cruelty that they bring about. The poem is to do with the sounds that radiate from London. By listening to them, on gets a clever, less biased image of London. The chimney sweeps were usually little boys, who often died at a very early age because of the condition that they had to work in. The chimney sweepers are connected with the church because they are often in need of the church’s help but they are frequently turned away, or they turn a blind eye on them, or it could even be the church that sends them up there.
This is not the attitude that a church should have on children, it completely contradicts everything in the bible. This is why the ‘blackening church’ also represents the smoke and soot. ‘appalls’ in line 10 is exaggerating the blame of the church as well as meaning ‘goes pale’ which is a juxtaposition with ‘blackening.’ It is as though the blackened stone is a mark of sin on the church. Blackening also suggests a dark, evil, corrupt scene. Appall means to whiten and be horrified, but a pal is also a cloak of death. The children were abandoned on the street and were picked up and lead to their death. Blake blames the church for the deaths.
But in Blake’s mind, the most atrocious crime of all is prostitution. The hearse is a carriage to carry a body in. This stanza concentrates on marriage and new-life, both of which should bring happiness. Instead Blake sees new-life as just continuing the cycle of the corruption, and he criticizes the reasons for marriage, believing that many marry for convenience rather than marrying for love. Most of the men who visit prostitutes are old and married. Blake also criticizes the “youthful harlot” and uses the word “plague” to suggest STD’s which will be contracted and passed on.
It is the death of marriage. In a plague, all people fie, the wife gets the disease from her husband who slept with the prostitutes. The lies and deceit caused by the husbands’ deception will turn their marriage. Blake does not blame the prostitutes however, as he realizes that it is their escape from poverty. It is ironic that he says ‘And blights with plagues the marriage hearse,’ because marriage and hearse do not go together. It suggests marriage, then death. Blake is saying basically that happiest things in life such as love or marriage can be tarnished by disease, such as the plague, causing death.