What aspects of Romantic literature are evident in William Blake's poem "London"?

The aspects of Romantic literature evident in “London” are high emotions, mediations on the evil of the city, and a focus on the plight of the poor. The language of the poem is very emotional, consonant with Wordsworth’s idea of Romantic poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” He also depicts London as a place of darkness and evil, and writes about the misery of the poor, crushed by a tyrannical system.

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William Blake’s “London” presents a first person speaker remarking upon the misery of London life in a strongly emotional manner. This is an instance of the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” which Wordsworth saw as an important feature of Romanticism. The language of the poem is highly emotive. People in the street are marked by “weakness” and “woe.” Men and children cry in fear. The sigh of soldiers is so terrible that it is transmuted into blood. Harlots curse, and even marriage is plagued with death.

Although Blake, unlike Wordsworth, was not primarily a nature poet, he also features the Romantic trope that the city is a dark, evil place, full of human suffering, to be contrasted with the beauty of nature. The only natural feature in the poem is the river Thames, and even this is “charter’d” like the streets. Blake’s London is a squalid place, where palace walls run with blood.

Finally, there is the concern with social justice, and the plight of the poor. Wordsworth and Coleridge presented this idea from a more optimistic angle when depicting the “heroism of everyday life” in the Lyrical Ballads, but it was with the second generation of Romanticism, and particularly in the works of Shelley, that injustice and tyranny such as Blake depicts in London, became more characteristic subjects of the movement.

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Blake focuses on the intense emotion experienced by residents of the city: he notices that every face bears "marks of woe" -- all are sad.  The chimney sweeps "cry" and soldiers "sigh," and everyone seems generally despairing and unhappy, not to be comforted by their churches or any scene of beauty; indeed, it seems that there are no such scenes here.  One might conjecture that poem this is an indictment of city life, especially since it is named after the city of London.  We might infer that this is how people feel in cities, in general: disconnected and discontent.  We can also infer, then, that Blake would champion life in the country, a life more connected with Nature, rather than "Palace walls" and "blackning Church[es]."  A privileging of Nature and the natural world over life within the city, surrounded by buildings and dirt and grime, is very much a Romantic move, as is the focus on intense emotion.

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The famous Romanticist William Wordsworth held that good poetry was "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," and "London" most certainly is that.  It epitomizes many of the tenets of romantic poetry, beginning with a preoccupation with nature and that which has been done to nature and to the nature of Man. In "London," the narrator describes "each chart'red street" and "the chart'red Thames," suggesting an unnatural level of control has been imposed even upon the river. This has created an unnatural habitat for human beings, and therefore it is no wonder that "marks of weakness,  marks of woe" can be seen in every face.  

The poem also makes a connection between this misery and the tyranny of government, as we can assume that the "mind forged manacles" are as a result of political impositions, which have also caused the metaphorical "blood" on the palace walls. This reflects the preoccupation in Romantic poetry with the human spirit triumphing against repression and, indeed, a spirit of revolution that is also found in much of Shelley's work. 

Blake is always concerned with the state of man from "Infant" to grave, and the "plague" imposed upon all by modern life away from the countryside. This is a Romantic concern that is very evident here, as Blake describes so colorfully the plague of London life. 

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William Blake wrote in the early years of the Romantic era of British literature. His poem "London" displays at least three of the tenets of Romanticism. First, Romantic literature reflects an interest in the common man and childhood. This poem is concerned with everyday citizens of London: "every Man," chimney sweeps, soldiers, harlots, and a common married couple. Twice the poem mentions infants. Second, Romantic poems often celebrate individualism, freedom, and rights, reflecting the revolutions that had occurred in America and France around these issues. In this poem, Blake refers to "the mind forg'd manacles," ways of thinking that keep the everyday people of London bound to a less than satisfactory existence. By using these words, he suggests his desire that people would break free and live up to their potential as human beings. Third, Romantic poetry is known for its strong feelings and emotions. Words such as "marks of woe," "every cry of every Man," "every infant's cry of fear," "appalls," "sigh," "curse," "blights," and "plagues" evoke intense emotions in the reader mirroring the deep feelings that Blake had on his subject. Characterizing the couple's marriage as a "hearse" also arouses strong feelings. Because of its attention to the common man and childhood, its interest in individualism and freedom, and its passion, "London" represents Romantic literature well. 

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