Why did William Blake write "London"?

William Blake wrote "London" as a way of condemning what he saw as the depravity of London life.

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I believe that Blake wrote this poem to decry the state of people in the urban centers of his time.  He argues, in the poem, that people in the cities are really badly off in a number of ways.

In this poem, Blake is saying, for example, that people are...

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I believe that Blake wrote this poem to decry the state of people in the urban centers of his time.  He argues, in the poem, that people in the cities are really badly off in a number of ways.

In this poem, Blake is saying, for example, that people are oppressed.  He says that they are, essentially, living in chains.  The have manacles on that have been formed by their minds.

In addition, people are in bad physical condition because of their poverty.  You can see the marks of weakness on them wherever you look.

Finally, they are badly off morally.  Women have, for example, been forced to become prostitutes.

All in all, life in the cities has degraded the humanity of the people who live in it.

This is, I believe, what Blake had in mind when he wrote the poem.

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Blake's poem is part of his collection called Songs of Innocence and of Experience. While often thought of as children's poems, their larger purpose is to articulate Blake's vision of reality, in which nature is both good and evil, a source of pleasure and pain. Blake wrote "London" as a way of exploring this darker side of reality and expressing the depravity he saw in English society at the time.

The poem is a kind of dream vision of a real place. Blake's observations of the real place are transformed into a nightmare landscape where the moral decay and misery inherent in people and things becomes clear and visible. This becomes apparent in his description: the Thames is "charter'd" (or made subject to human demands); the "blackning Church" is a source of fear, not reassurance; the "youthful Harlots curse" (venereal disease) infects children and marriage alike. Sometimes, this "vision" conflates sound and image: the "sigh" of soldiers becomes blood running "down Palace walls."

Blake is also pretty clear about what he sees is the root cause of this rot: the "mind-forg'd manacles" the hears "in every voice." These "manacles" can be understood as capitalism, or the Industrial Revolution, or colonialism—what is important is the idea that men are trapped by these institutions into living in a depraved society. It is depraved in a specific way: man works to enslave nature, to bend it to his will, but in so doing, he only perverts it and brings misery on himself.

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