What does "charter'd" mean in the poem "London"?

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"Charter'd" in "London" means owned. A charter is a paper or contract confirming the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of owners or managers.

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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 rights, responsibilities, and privileges of the owners or managers.

In the first stanza of "London," Blake uses the word charter'd twice. First, he calls the streets of London charter'd, or owned. Second, he calls the Thames, the river that flows past central London, "charter'd." The Thames was the heart of London's power, a body of water allowing a vast network of ships to sail in and out of the country.

Using the word charter'd emphasizes that the city and its commerce are owned and controlled by humans and are not simply natural forces. A charter implies, as mentioned above, responsibilities as well as rights: those responsible for a college, for instance, are expected to educate. By saying that London and the Thames are chartered, Blake points his finger at the privileged who benefit from this place but who are not, as the poem describes, living up to their responsibility to provide a decent life to its residents. His focus is on the suffering of the poor and the common people, those forced into child labor, prostitution, and the army, but as he notes in the opening of the poem, "every" face he sees in this social system is unhealthy and unhappy.

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