Last Updated on February 23, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 294
"London" by William Blake is a poem with four stanzas in which the poet describes a journey through "each charter'd street" of the city and details the "woe" he observes in every quarter. The poem is similar in content and theme to other Blake poems about the plight of the working classes and reflects his concerns about his home city and its inequalities.
Blake uses anaphora and repetition to amplify the core message of the poem: that "mind-forged manacles" oppress the people of London and can be observed "in every cry of every Man," in "every Infant" and indeed "in every voice." The description of London, and even the Thames, as "charter'd" further suggests that there are constraints on the city which are amplifying its widespread "woe."
Reflecting the concerns of many during the Industrial Revolution, Blake observes "how the Chimney-sweepers cry" and describes the "blackning Church," a victim of the blackening effect of smoke churned out by factories as heavy industry grows in the city. He also refers to the "hapless Soldiers sigh" being metaphorically represented in blood on the "palace walls," a condemnation of the way working class men were coerced into the army and used as if they were dispensable.
In the final stanza, Blake creates a bleak picture of London's "midnight streets" as being filled with "youthful Harlots," whose "curse" engenders pain in "new-born Infants" and "blights . . . the Marriage hearse." This stanza laments the growth of underground prostitution in London and its effects upon marriage and the nuclear family; the concept of a "Marriage hearse" is a chilling oxymoron which ends the poem on a very disheartening note. The state of London, with its child labor, its prostitution, and its "manacles" upon the poor, is, in Blake's assessment, dire indeed.