Compare and contrast "London" by William Blake and "Composed upon Westminster Bridge" by William Wordsworth.

lit24 | Student

William Blake's (1757-1827) "London" written in 1792 is a devastating portrait of a society in which all souls and bodies were trapped, exploited and infected.The poem is a devastating and concise political analysis, delivered with passionate anger, revealing the complex connections between patterns of ownership and the ruling ideology, the way all human relations are inescapably bound together within a single destructive society.

William Wordsworth's (1770-1850) sonnet "Composed upon Westminster Bridge 3rd September 1802" is a 'momentary poem' written when the coach on which he and his sister Dorothy were travelling to London to board a ship to Paris paused on the Westminster Bridge across the Thames.  Wordsworth describes what he sees, thinks and feels on a specific day at a specific moment. Had September 3, 1802, been a dismal day of rain, fog or overcast skies, we would not have this lyric to enjoy.

The mood and atmosphere of Blake's "London," written after he "wandered" through the streets of the metropolis, is bitter and sombre:

"How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry

Every black'ning Church appalls."

However, in Wordsworth's sonnet the mood and atmosphere is radiant and peaceful and serene:

"All bright and glittering in the smokeless air."

The tone of Blake's "London" is despairingly pessimistic:

"How the youthful Harlot’s curse 
Blasts the new-born Infant’s tear 
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse."

whereas the tone of Wordsworth's sonnet is glowingly optimistic: "And all that mighty heart is lying still!"

Blake's poem deals with pain and misery of the inhabitants ("every Man") of London: "the new-born infant,"  "the chimney sweeper,"  "the hapless soldier" and "the youthful harlot."  Blake reveals in a chilling and realistic manner the battered soul and psyche of a diseased metropolis whereas Wordsworth's sonnet on the other hand is merely a beautiful description of the physical landmarks in London city at daybreak:

"The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air."

Blake's perspective is at the street level and narrow and restricted whereas Wordsworth's perspective is panoramaic.

Blake's 16 line poem is made up of four quatrains rhyming abab, whereas Wordsworth's poem is a petrarchan sonnet with the sestet rhyming cdcdcd and the rhymes being restricted to four in number.

Blake's main poetic device is the  synecdoche which he uses to comprehensively describe the collective misery and pain of the entire population of London city: "the new-born infant," "the hapless soldier," "the youthful harlot."  Wordsworth's main poetic device is personification which he employs to capture the radiant beauty of London city:

"This city, now doth like a garment wear,

The beauty of the morning silent, bare."




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