In Blake’s “London,” the narrator reflects on the city as he wanders through it and observes the great distress of its people. As he walks, he observes “marks of weakness, marks of woe” in the faces of people he passes and hears of their hardships “in every voice.”
The Government and Church
The government and church, Blake implies, are to blame for London’s sufferings. The church is “blackning,” growing physically darker from the coal in the air during the Industrial Revolution and morally darker from the corruption within it. Likewise, the government allows the “sigh[s]” of soldiers to run “in blood down Palace walls.” It is implied that these institutions have enslaved the people of London with “mind-forg’d manacles” by enforcing corrupt policies that fail to support the needy.
The People of London
“London” is extremely sympathetic to the people of the city and the oppression and hardship they endure. Their faces and voices display “weakness” and “woe,” and their freedom has been taken from them by the “mind-forg’d manacles” that constrain them. The narrator points to several specific examples of suffering groups in the city, such as “Chimney-sweeper[s],” soldiers, and infants. These groups are perhaps cited specifically because of their innocence: chimney sweeps were often children and were forced to work long hours in dangerous conditions; soldiers could only “sigh” while their lives were sacrificed by their government; and infants often suffered from birth because of the venereal diseases circulating throughout the city, due in part to London’s great number of prostitutes.