What is your critical appreciation of "London" by William Blake?

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The speaker of William Blake's "London" describes a pitiable scene: everyone in the city, young and old, is miserable. People live in poverty and are forced to work in unsafe conditions. Churches do not take care of people as they should, and everyone feels powerless. The figurative "mind-forg'd manacles" they wear is a metaphor for their oppression and inability to escape the confines of the city.

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William Blake's poem "London" shows how this city, the supposed center of culture, actually embodies the wasted potential of humanity. In the first stanza, the speaker notes that the streets and even the river is "charter'd," meaning it is owned. The fact that the freely flowing river is owned is a statement about the governing bodies and businesses of London owning life itself, since water is a necessity of life. 

In the second and third stanzas, the speaker listens to the anguished cries under political and legal oppressions ("bans") which leads the reader to interpret that these limitations suppress the human spirit; not just social practices. This limitation of the human spirit and human life is "marked" by the word "weakness." 

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

The faces are "marked" with this limitation. That is, their facial expressions communicate this repression, but it is also as if they are stamped (marked) or conditioned to feel this way. 

The third stanza ends with the tragedy of the soldier who dies to protect this gloomy way of life. 

In the last stanza, the speaker notes the prostitutes cursing and this could be a comment on the buying and selling of (at least physical) love. The speaker also condemns marriage itself, comparing it to a legal limitation, perhaps an even greater imprisonment for the wife than the husband. Interestingly, "bans" used before to indicate political and legal prohibitions, can also be spelled "banns" and this means a marriage proclamation. The speaker sees legal, political and even marital bonds as limitations or chains on the human spirit. 

Coming from Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, "London" is a "Song of Experience." The urban landscape (the river being the only natural reference) is "charter'd," implying that social code is based on buying and sellling. The songs of experience are contrasted with the songs of innocence, which have more natural, happy, optimistic images. "London" is an indictment of English society, the monarchy, the church, and the law. In this poem, Blake addresses the ways in which these institutions affect and repress daily life in London. 


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Write an analysis of "London" by William Blake.

In William Blake's "London," the speaker describes the city of London, England, as a sad and oppressive place. He says that every person's face has "Marks of weakness" and of "woe" (line 4). Even the repetition of the word "charter'd" to describe, first, the streets of the city and, next, the Thames river which flows through it makes it seem as though the speaker has no say in the direction he walks and that the river's course, too, is dictated to it. Everyone around him wears figurative "mind-forg'd manacles," a metaphor for the mental oppression and powerlessness they feel (8). Every man cries, every infant fears, and so it seems as though there is something fundamentally oppressive about life in the city during this time. The use of anaphora, the repetition of the first word or words in poetic lines, also points to the tedium of this oppression and misery, how widespread and pervasive it is. The speaker says,

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

The "ban[s]" to which the speaker refers are the laws of the city, and so it is within these laws that the speaker detects the restraint humans place on themselves by living in places like this. The churches are "black[ened]" by the cries of the young chimney sweeps—often children, because they could fit inside the cramped spaces—perhaps because those parishes do not properly care for the poverty-stricken families in their congregation.

Finally, the prostitutes, who are also young, "curse" their terrible lives, and so this is what their "new-born" babies hear in their innocent state. In the final line, the speaker references a "blight[ed] ... Marriage hearse." This, too, must be a metaphor, and so we have to try to figure out what is denoted by "Marriage" and what that has to do with death, as a hearse is a vehicle that conveys a dead body to its final resting place. Marriage is typically associated with love, and that is one thing that seems to be absolutely lacking in this place, so we might interpret the figurative hearse as carrying love, which has been killed by all of the misery and poverty and oppression in London at this time.

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