A poem which makes a social or political statement is London by William Blake. Blake’s poem is about the social problems, inequalities and Injustice that arose due to the industrial revolution. In London, William Blake brings to light a city that was overrun by poverty and hardship. Blake discards the glorifying view of London. He believes that London is nothing more than a city suffocated by a harsh economy, where Royalty and the church have allowed morality and goodness to deteriorate so that suffering and poverty are all that exist. Blake wrote the poem in 1792 and it was published in 1794 as part of ‘Songs of Experience’.
The collection of poems were written to illustrate the negative effects of life on people and nature. The poems highlighted the dangerous industrial conditions, child labour, prostitution, capitalism and mass poverty which were rife during the industrial revolution. The experience poems were written in contrast to ‘The songs of innocence’ poems which Blake wrote with a more positive tone to convey the goodness of humanity, innocence of childhood, love and nature. Blake lived and worked in the capital, so he was arguably well placed to write accurately about the conditions people who lived there faced.
. It wasn’t until after his death in 1827 that his work was given recognition, so his life was blighted by poverty. He felt an affiliation with the proletariat and loathed inequality. Throughout this poem Blake uses a range of different poetic techniques to convey the inequalities and unjust treatment of the poorer classes. This gives the reader a stronger understanding overall. The poem is written in the first person. The structure is broken down into four stanzas and is written in mostly iambic tertrameter (It’s so called tetrameter as each stanza has four feet or lines).
The third and fourth stanzas use both iambic and trochaic meter. In the first two line of the first stanza Blake uses repetition “I wandered thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow” This scansion serves to reinforce the theme of the whole poem. The word chartered is used ironically to imply ownership, early capitalism and control of trade. The wealth it’s creating in the upper classes and therefore the class divide and poverty that’s been caused as a by-product. Blake writes of the river being charter’d, thus saying even a river that’s meant to be natural and free flowing is
controlled. To compare Blake’s use of the word Chartered. His friend Thomas Paine had stated in his book Rights of Man the year before, “It is a perversion of terms to say, that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect that of taking rights away”. Blake goes onto say “And mark in every face I meet, marks of weakness, marks of woe” The repetition of “marks” emphasizes the visible signs of sickness, misery and suffering experienced by most. Everyone was on the same boat. The literary conventions in the first stanza set the tone for the political and social oppression and strengthens ones understanding.
In the second stanza Blake tells the reader what he can hear on the oppressed streets of London. “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” Again the repetition and rhythm of ‘every’ reinforces the anger and oppression, everybody’s affected. Even the infant, born into a life of poverty and oppression feels the suffering. In line three ban could refer to every area or it could be used to describe prohibition. In 1789 shortly before the poem was written the French Revolted and used violence and murder to overthrow the aristocracy and those in power.
As a throwback Britain’s government grew nervous and restricted freedom of speech. They were worried the British would revolt due to the social and political inequalities felt by most at the time. The mind-for’d manacles is a metaphor for how impoverished people were and how they had no future to look forward to, no escape. People’s thoughts were shackled, perhaps due to the restriction on freedom of speech. The reader understands through the word ‘I’ in line four of the second stanza that Blake was not a distant observer but he was suffering himself.
This further enhances ones understanding. In the third stanza. Blake uses an acrostic anagram on the first letter of every line to spell out the word hear. This is to echo the importance and signiificance of what he heard on the streets in the second stanza. He talks of the chimney sweepers cry, in those days children were used to do this job as their tiny frames were able to fit up the chimneys. It was a dangerous job and often resulted in serious death or injury. “Every black’ning Church appals, and the hopeless Soldiers sigh, Runs in blood down palace walls”.
Blackening was used as a metaphor for the smoke coming from the industrialised chimneys staining the church’s walls or metaphorically tarnishing the church’s reputation. Blake is literally wondering what the church is doing to help the impoverished. He believes the church should be using its force for good however he is disillusioned and sees it as a negative power that’s capitalising on child labour and the means of production. The monarchy is controlling all the wealth and cushioning itself with luxuries. All the while men and families are dying with hunger and through industrialised disease.
The monarchy like the church are doing nothing to help mankind so the blood of the oppressed is on their hands and metaphorically running down the palace walls. This particular stanza is prominent as it alerts the reader to the oppressive institutions that stand to perpetuate the injustice. In the fourth and final stanza. Blake tells the reader that there’s worse to come by using the word ‘But’ as the first word on the first line. “But most thro’ midnight streets I hear How the youthful Harlot’s curse Blasts the new- born infants tear And blights with plague the marriage hearse”.
This is a metaphor which is used to describe how prostitution and venereal disease were prevalent at this time. The harlot is a young victim. She has been robbed of the chance to love her baby, because the baby is the result of means and capitalism through the prostitute’s trade. The prostitutes curse or venereal disease has infected the aristocratic men she copulates with, thus infecting their wives and ripping marriage apart through death and infection. The metaphor and oxymoron “marriage hearse” is so haunting.
With the word marriage the reader imagines a blossoming union between two lovers but hearse lambasts that notion completely with the reader imagining death and suffering. By attacking the institution of marriage and family. One believes that nobody was immune to this downtrodden capitalist society; even the bourgeoisie! It’s a devastating portrait of a society in which all souls and bodies were trapped, exploited and infected. Throughout this poem Blake has successfully conveyed his anger at the institutions he believed should have been in place to help.
He has hammered home the notions of inequality and unjust suffering due to the control and ownership of the means of production by the ruling classes. Through the different poetic techniques and structure of the poem one has an enriched understanding and can truly imagine how hard life was during these times. Reference Paine Thomas, The Rights of Man 1791, published by Dover thrift edition, Feb 2000 Various, The Nation’s favourite Poets, BBC worldwide Limited 1996 http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/London_(poem) http://anglisztika. ektf. hu/new/content/tudomany/ejes/ejesdokumentumok/2007/Racz_2007. pdf