What are the structure and the poetic devices used in the poem "London"?

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The poem "London" by William Blake consists of four stanzas, with each stanza consisting of four lines. The lines are written in iambic tetrameter and rhymed ABAB. This means that we can describe the poem as consisting of four iambic tetrameter open quatrains.

The poem is narrated in the first person. The narrator is walking about London and observing the miseries and misfortunes of its inhabitants and meditating on them. In literary terms, we have a first person narrator whose observations are limited to what a person might actually hear and see on such a walk, sharing his inner thoughts with the reader. 

One major device used in the poem is repetition. Words such as "chartered," "every," "mark," and "hear" are repeated to emphasize the universality of commerce, its evil effects, and the way the results of commercial and spiritual downfall can be observed by the ears and eyes of the narrator or anyone else walking in London.

Alliteration is also common, with repeated sounds suggesting a connection between "chartered," "church," and "chimney-sweepers" with commercialism and a corrupt church being blamed for the miseries of the young boys sweeping chimneys.

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In Blake's, "London," the speaker uses an adult narrator who is walking through the streets of London, a city that is not only the capitol of England, but the capitol of the British Empire.  The city, as the speaker experiences it, falls short of what it should be, in the speaker's (and Blake's, by extension) perception.

Humans suffer under charters, regulations, popular opinions and mores, which all lead to "mind-forged manacles." 

The speaker uses rhyme, with every other line rhyming in each stanza.  He uses repetition:  "In every..."; "charter'd"; "mark" and "Marks"; "cry."  He uses alliteration:  "And the hapless Soldiers sigh...."

The poem also uses allusion, referring to the "Chimney-sweepers" who appear in other poems in Blake's collections Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience (in which "London" is included).

Rhyme, repetition, consistency of theme, and the linear walk through the streets of the narrator, create unity in the poem, with the speaker's opening of the final stanza leading to the final thoughts:

But most thro' midnight streets I hear....

And in the final stanza we see what sex and marriage in London lead to, what women having to sell themselves to survive leads to, and what marriage that must be maintained because society says so leads to. 




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