Introduction to London

William Blake’s 1794 ballad “London” documents a traverse through the streets of London near the turn of the nineteenth century. The speaker encounters a series of sights that fill him with disgust and despair, emotions he sees reflected in the faces he encounters with their “marks of weakness, marks of woe.” The London of Blake’s “London” is a city of desperate cries, “mind-forg’d manacles,” revolutionary agitation, and “Harlot’s curse[s].” These visions are told in four stanzas of concise, rhymed tetrameter. From this poetic form, Blake forges a tone that is at once song-like and severe.

The poem appeared in his 1794 volume, Songs of Experience, which was a companion to his 1789 volume, Songs of Innocence. The later volume’s lyrics have a somewhat more somber and stern cast than those in the earlier volume, as befits the thematic contrast between the two.

A Brief Biography of William Blake

William Blake (1757–1827) was largely rejected by eighteenth-century society, but he is now heralded for his imaginative and innovative contributions to English literature. Blake’s work doesn’t fall neatly into one category, but much of it centers on thematic dichotomies such as heaven and hell, innocence and experience, spirit and reason, and the classic struggle of good and evil. Those are familiar enough topics, certainly addressed by writers before him, but Blake tackled them with his own blend of imagination, mysticism, and passion. “I must create my own system,” he insisted, “or be enslav’d by another man’s. I will not reason and compare; my business is to create.” And create he did. Blake wrote poetry, mythology, satires, political pieces, and prophetic works that openly defied the conventions of his time, including his famous Songs of Innocence and of Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Frequently Asked Questions about London

London

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...

Latest answer posted June 19, 2021, 12:58 pm (UTC)

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London

Blake's "London" was featured in his collection Songs of Experience, a collection that was a response to his earlier collection entitled Songs of Innocence. As Songs of Experience in general...

Latest answer posted June 21, 2021, 12:27 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

The "marriage hearse" appears in the last line of Blake's poem. The image is deeply ambiguous. First, it conflates two opposites. Marriage is associated with beginnings, procreation, and a kind of...

Latest answer posted June 20, 2021, 11:43 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

In “London,” William Blake laments the ubiquitous despair of late–eighteenth-century London. Ravaged by the impersonal effects of the Industrial Revolution (mechanization, rapid economic growth at...

Latest answer posted June 22, 2021, 9:36 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

The speaker says that he hears the "mind-forg'd manacles" in the cry of every man, every infant, every voice. This is our first clue that something figurative is going on here, as we would be much...

Latest answer posted June 22, 2021, 2:08 pm (UTC)

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London

William Blake published "London" in 1794 in his Songs of Experience. The French Revolution had taken place just five years earlier, and this caused lawmakers in England to pass new laws that would...

Latest answer posted June 22, 2021, 1:41 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

William Blake's poem "London" follows a simple structure that allows the violence and misery of the imagery to be digested more easily. It singsong meter and rhythm and the brevity of the lines...

Latest answer posted June 22, 2021, 11:26 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

In general, a dramatic monologue is a poem in which a speaker communicates with someone other than the reader. As the term dramatic implies, the address has some theatricality or spectacle. For...

Latest answer posted June 21, 2021, 2:08 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

A more complete version of this quote is as follows: And the hapless Soldiers sigh Runs in blood down Palace walls. In general, the last line of the quote is saying that the "Palace," the...

Latest answer posted June 21, 2021, 11:20 am (UTC)

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In the context of the whole poem, "blackning" appears to have just as much of a figurative meaning as it does a literal one, and both are connected to the chimney sweepers referenced in the...

Latest answer posted June 21, 2021, 11:58 am (UTC)

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The speaker of the poem says that the Thames is "charter'd" in the first stanza of the poem (line 2). The Thames is the river that flows through the city of London and has long been used as a mode...

Latest answer posted June 20, 2021, 1:57 pm (UTC)

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London

The imagery in "London" is largely visual or auditory. This means that it conveys sensory information that one can either imagine seeing or hearing, respectively. In the second stanza, the speaker...

Latest answer posted June 20, 2021, 1:35 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

Blake's "London" present a bleak portrait of life in the capital city. The speaker notes marks of "weakness" and unhappiness in "every" face he sees as he walks the city's streets. His London is...

Latest answer posted June 20, 2021, 11:20 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

"London," by William Blake is a Romantic poem. This is not to say that it focuses on a loving or "romantic" relationships between people who feel affection or lust for one another, but, rather,...

Latest answer posted June 19, 2021, 5:26 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

William Blake is playing with words with the term mark. He is using the word both as a verb and as a noun. To mark is to notice, but it can also refer to a physical mark, like a birthmark or the...

Latest answer posted June 22, 2021, 11:33 am (UTC)

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William Blake props up the state and the church as symbols of power in his poem "London." The poem depicts misery in many forms in the city of London, from orphaned children crying out to...

Latest answer posted June 21, 2021, 11:44 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

London

In this poem, the speaker walks through London at the end of the eighteenth century and describes to the reader what he sees and hears. In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker remarks that he...

Latest answer posted June 20, 2021, 11:18 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

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Blake presents suffering as pretty universal, at least in the city of London in this era. He implies that there is a clear sense of hopelessness that is experienced by every adult and even by every...

Latest answer posted June 19, 2021, 5:12 pm (UTC)

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London

A city, company, university, or other entity is "charter'd" (chartered) when it is owned, with certain groups having rights or privileges in it. A "charter" is a paper or contract outlining the...

Latest answer posted June 19, 2021, 12:00 pm (UTC)

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London

The speaker of the poem "London" shows his anger at the city of London, which represents English civilization, by focusing his attention on its negative features. The people he sees walking in the...

Latest answer posted June 19, 2021, 11:39 am (UTC)

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Summary