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Our first impression of the poem “London” is that it is not “Romantic”—that is, not pastoral, not in tune with Nature, not spiritual. While these terms certainly apply to the Romantic poetry definition laid out by Wordsworth and Coleridge in “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”, Romanticism was also a response to, and criticism of, the urban, mechanized, inhuman Age of Reason, in which technological progress was valued over any collateral human damage, and this is Blake’s concern here. The “charter’d streets” and especially “the charter’d Thames” are criticisms of how a city re-forms a natural landscape, claiming its ownership, to conform to man-made desires. (Wordsworth, too, lamented the city life, citing his experience with a blind beggar in London, staring out from sightless eyes “as though admonished from another world.”) Every image Blake conjures up is the Romanticist’s criticism of the over-civilized life—“mind-forged manacles”, the blood on the palace walls, etc. As Wordsworth says, “the world is too much with us”, nowhere more concentrated than in Blake’s London, a large city devoid of contact with the Romanticist’s view of Nature.
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