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William Blake was born in 1757 in Westminster and worked as an apprentice to an engraver known as James Basire at the age of 14 years (Ackroyd, 90). It was during the times of the French Revolution when he wrote his poem called London and showed his views of 18thC London, a place where he stayed for almost his entire life. In his lifetime, Blake was considered an odd and madman, and it was only after his death when his work earned acknowledgment. He had lived in poverty and was buried in Bunhill Fields in London in an unmarked grave. In his poem "London", Blake used metaphor a lot so as to deliver his messages as discussed below.
The poem has a total of 16 lines which are divided into 4 paragraphs with a rhyming AbAb pattern throughout the poem. It is with sarcasm that describes in the first paragraph the sights he observes as he walks through the streets of London. Blake's anger at the political times and his feeling towards ruling classes with their controlling rules and cruel means is stressed by the repetitive use of the word "charter'd". He mocks in the poem to say that they do not only want to control every street but even the River Thames which should usually be free for all but it is "charter'd" in this case (Blake, 3).
The poem aims on the social and political basis of London and outlines variations in the wealth of the ruling classes and the poverty encountered by the common man. In order to avoid Londoners following example of the French counterparts, free speech was curtailed. London's people are described as being weak and full of anguish as revealed by the marks on their head. There is also repeated use of the word "marks" which stresses again the weariness and misery that they seem to be experiencing due to their subjugated mode of living (Blake, 3). Blake, being a spiritual person himself, used the expression "mark of woe" in a nearly religious sense. In this poem, he is being the onlooker and he can see as he walks the misery and weakness marked on the passers' face because of their helplessness of being incapable to bring about any changes within their destiny.
It is as if fear and cries of every man and child are audible to him as he walks by though they are suppressed. Additionally, his mystical side can be observed because he was said to have spiritual vision throughout his lifetime. He can still hear through their silence all that they want to say but can't due to fear of power. There is absence of free expression and he applies the word "ban" which is very apparent in its meaning and discloses how people were incapable to voice their criticisms on how the country was being governed. Blake (4) states that due to fear of being imprisoned, no one dared to speak out. The words "fear", "cry", "ban" and "mind-forg'd manacles" explain persons who are frightened and suffering, and their feelings are detained in their own minds. There is repeated use of words like "every" on the first three verses to stress these feelings of being detained and trapped.
In the third paragraph, he talks about the chimney sweepers and the unfortunate soldier and his finger of blame points to places of authority such as palace and the church. The words "sigh", runs in blood" and "appals" show power being resistant to its common people who are suffering though there appears to be no comfort coming their way. The destitute children are represented by chimney sweepers while the anguish of those who had to serve in the military under difficult conditions are represented by soldier (Blake, 5). Their blood is being shed down the palace walls while the cries of distressed children are blacking the church which is supposed to bring light to the people. Incorporation of the helpless on one side and the unhearing authority on the other is both harsh and bleak in his tone.
Blake takes on an even more apprehension tone in the last verse as he talks about the young girl who is out in the darkness of the night walking the streets. Due to poverty, young women had to resort to prostitution and he can hear her nuisances for what she has to undergo. The new born child is affected by her grief and he uses influential words like "blasts" which is a difference to the gentleness one would apply for a new born baby. It is as though he can foresee the complexities the child will have to endure just like his mother is doing (Mazarweh, 6). On the other hand, a rich woman is married and will be blighted in a carriage by this curse and her carriage might turnout to be a hearse. Blake is pointing a finger at the wealthy men who might use the service of a prostitute and then get married and pass on disease to their wives. He applies the word "plagues" to mean the existence of the rich and how their deeds impact the lives of all the guiltless people involved.
No matter how brutal and harsh is in its message; this poem has relevance even currently where there is poverty because of large income differences among the rich and the poor. Generally, in this poem, Blake described the condition of London city and connected it with the downfall of the society. He narrates in the first stanza of the poem that he is walking on the streets of London near the Thames River. He describes his view for the people of the city in the line "A mark.........of woe." This stanza provides the picture of difficult life of cities such as London where individuals have to struggle for their every requirement of life. The actual happiness is taken from their lives by this struggle (Mazarweh, 17).
He uses the word "every" in the first three line of the second stanza of the poem. Here, he symbolizes the dissatisfaction and despair spread in the society. He portrays the sorrow of people of London in the third stanza. He symbolizes the ugly part of the city like prostitution, crime, corruption, among others which are developing smokes and ashes on the London City's image in the first line "How chimney sweepers cry." He uses "blackening church" in the next line to symbolize the drop in religious faiths among the people. Government and ruling authorities' dictatorship which uses the helpless poor soldiers for their brutal decisions is symbolized by "The hapless soldier" (Mazarweh, 22). He explains in the last stanza of the poem how wrong corrupt events of modern generation can damage the future of coming generations. He uses phrases like "you harlots curse" and "new-born infants tear" to symbolize this fact.