1. London – William Blake (1794) The poet’s his own voice presents a stark and darkly negative vision of suffering humanity, almost crushed to extinction by the circumstances of the times. He portrays a section of society, observed and interpreted with metaphor, rhetoric, visual and auditory imagery. Using four stanzas of four rhyming quatrains, with iambic pentameter and the assonance of true rhyme, the poem drives home the writer’s messages. There is a ruthless force, an unrelenting build-up of the passion and anger Blake felt about the conditions he observed in that society. the rhythms drum into the mind. The vivid imagery denotes the darkness, figuratively and literally, the only colours red and black, of a city at night. People only exist, not live.
The enjambment and alliterative repetition of ‘mark’ tells us reader what Blake saw, or marked/noted, while skilfully alluding to people being ‘marked’ or defined by weakness and woe. The visual imagery is further emphasized by the metaphor of “mind-forged manacles” (l. 8) and both sound and sight are evoked in
“And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace walls.” (l.11-12)
That last line alludes to the never-ending wars that England was engaged in.
The “cry of every man” (l. 5), the “infant’s cry of fear” (l. 6), the “youthful harlot’s curse” (l.14) are vivid auditory images, indicating loneliness, fear and despair. It is evident from the start that little light or joy existed in what Blake observed during the short space of time he described:
“I wander through each charter’d street” (l. 1)
the repetition of “charter’d” alludes mapping and/or granting rights, suggesting these people have no rights and a dismal future mapped out. The child is frightened, the soldier considered worthless, the young girl a prostitute, and it seemed that the morality of a civilized society was denied them all, as evidenced in the symbolism of the ending:
“And how the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear
And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.” (l. 14-16)
Blake painted a picture of a city in the throes of industrialization and capitalism. He perceived and reflected the social injustices, moral corruption, the dehumanising aspect of both. tenor of the times. He showed his passionate belief in the rights of man, and portrayed a sad indictment of that society. It is difficult to read this poem without seeing, hearing and feeling as he did, no doubt his intent. His skilled and deceptively simple poem, supported by persuasive rhetoric, create something that is emotionally and psychologically moving, a poem that hurts but enlightens, which is surely how it should be.
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