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'London' is a poem composed by the Romantic poet William Blake. It belongs to the collection Songs of Experience in the volume Songs of Innocence and Experience.
|Written In||Songs of Experience (complete collection: Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1794)|
|Written By||William Blake (1757-1827)|
|Form / Style||Rhyme poetry|
|Rhyme Scheme||Alternating rhymes (ABAB)|
|Literary and Poetic Devices||Alliteration; anaphora; allusion; metaphor; oxymoron; polyptoton; refrain; symbolism|
|Tone||Desperate; claustrophobic; critical|
|Key themes||Restrictions and freedom; innocence; death|
|Meaning||The poem paints a picture of London as a claustrophobic city, in which the speaker is miserable. All the residents of London, men, women, children, cry out in misery. The poem is critical of the growing industry in London and sees it as a tool of enslavement.|
'London' is a famous poem written by William Blake. It belongs to the poetry collection Songs of Experience of the complete volume titled Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794). William Blake lived most of his life in London, and witnessed the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Born to a family of dissenters, while being deeply religious, Blake was critical of organised religion and the Church of England. Additionally, Blake was also critical of the Industrial Revolution and firmly believed that it was a tool for enslaving people. The 'constructedness' of London as depicted in the poem expresses Blake's wariness and fear of the industry, and also highlights his criticism of it and of the failure of mankind to find a true connection with God through love, freedom, and a sense of community.
The poem 'London' belongs to the collection Songs of Experience. The poems in this collection contain overarching themes related to social oppression, loss of innocence, imposition of restrictions, death, etc. London, as a city, was swiftly progressing in industry. Blake was critical of the industrial revolution, and expressed the transformation of the city as he experienced it in the poem, thereby justifying its place in the collection Songs of Experience.
I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
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
How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tearAnd blights with plagues the Marriage hearse
Pro Tip: A brief summary of the poem is a good way to begin an essay about a poem. Without going into too much detail, write 4-5 sentences that outline the basic meaning or purpose of the poem. The details and the complexities of the poem can be elaborated upon later in your essay.
'London' is a critical commentary on the city of London and its changing pace due to the Industrial Revolution. The speaker of the poem walks through the streets of London, and notes the melancholy and resignation he sees in the face of Londoners. The sense of hearing is extremely important in the poem, as the speaker hears the various sounds of the city and its residents, reflecting the oppression faced by both. Towards the end, the speaker mentions seeing the 'Marriage hearse' that bears disease, death, and love.
Pro Tip: When elaborating the form or structure of a poem, think of the following:1. What is the meter and the rhyme scheme of the poem? Is it consistent? If there is a change, is it gradual or sudden? How does this change affect the way the poem reads?
2. Read the poem in its entirety. Do you notice any repetitions? Is a pattern emerging?
3. How does the form affect the reading of the poem? Does it influence the main subject or theme of the poem?
The poem London written by William Blake consists of four quatrains with each quatrain forming a stanza. The stanzas consist of alternating rhymes and are written in the iambic tetrameter. The third stanza is acrostic, as the starting letter of the following 3 lines spells out the word 'hear,' which is an important sense for this poem that focuses on many sounds of London and its residents.
The poem consists of alternating rhymes. The rhyme scheme is ABAB. The speaker absorbs the sights and sounds of London, and the alternating rhyme gives it a song-like quality to which seemingly the speaker is tuned to as they walk about the streets of London.
The meter of the poem is the iambic tetrameter, with some catalexis.
Those are three big words that we can break down.
The tetrameter bit simply means that the iamb is repeated four times in a line.
A catalectic is a line that is incomplete, which means the final part of the foot with a stressed or unstressed syllable is missing.
In the following line from the poem, we can examine some of the above-mentioned features. Note that the initial unstressed syllable for the first iambic foot is missing, making the line catalectic:
How / the youth/ful Har/lots curse
Alliteration refers to the repetition of certain sounds and stressed syllables, mostly used to add emphasis and also a sonic pleasure when the poem is read out loud.
As an exercise, identify the lines that employ alliteration in the poem, for example: 'weakness' and 'woe' repeat the 'w' sound.
In a poem, allusion is a reference to a historical event or idea, a popular myth, a religious tenet or code, a cultural issue, etc. For example, 'Her desperation for "Likes" on Instagram is her Achilles' Heel' - here, the 'Achilles Heel' is a reference to Greek mythology and the Trojan War wherein the hero Achilles was shot by an arrow to his heel, which caused his death. The use of 'Achilles' Heel' is an allusion to one's weakness or cause for downfall.
In the poem London, the poet alludes to the Royal Charters that controlled trade and were oppressive to those of lower classes and status. This is done by his repetitive use of the word 'chartered.' He also alludes to the corruption of the Church besides stating that it is polluted by labelling it as 'blackened.'
Anaphora is the repetition of phrases to add emphasis and enhance the rhythm of a poem.
Instances of anaphora can be found in lines 5-8 in the poem London. The use of 'in every' elevates the desperation and misery of the Londoners and how everyone is affected by it.
A metaphor is a figure of speech wherein an idea or an object is substituted for another to hint at a connection between the two. The metaphor adds a layer of meaning to the text.
While we will discuss the symbol of London in greater detail below, in this section, London, or perhaps the 'idea' of London is substituted for industry and progress or even poverty and destitution. Having lived nearly all of his life in London, William Blake loved the city. But with drastic changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution, Blake could no longer recognise the city he loved. There is a constructedness about London, with its 'mind-forg'd manacles' and its chartered streets. Each part through which the speaker walks has its marks of poverty, misery, and darkness. As an exercise, identify phrases in the poem that express the character of London as a place of misery, confinement, and oppression.
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that places two contradictory notions together. For example: 'The apple crumble was awfully good.' The use of 'awfully good' here is an oxymoron.
The oxymoron found in the poem 'London' is 'marriage hearse.' While marriage is a happy occasion and a symbol of love and unity, a hearse is a symbol of grief, separation and death. The union of these two words, however, carries a different meaning. The marriage hearse, here, seemingly signifies the death of love and union and the sense of community in industrial London. Additionally, the growing presence of 'harlots' in the city could also lead to the termination of marriages or diseases spreading, thereby signifying prostitution as leading to the marital funeral.
A polyptoton is the use of words belonging to the same 'root' word but carrying a slightly different meaning. For example, the words 'passion', 'passing', and 'passive' have the same root word but different meanings.
In the poem 'London', a polyptoton can be found in lines 3 and 4, where the words 'mark' and 'marks' stem from the same root word but slightly differ in meaning.
Refrain refers to the words, lines, or phrases repeated within a poem
In the poem, certain lines or words are repeated - this is usually done to add emphasis or underline certain meanings in the poem. For example, what does the repetition of the word 'charter'd' or 'every' do for the poem?
The main symbol in 'London' is the titular city of London, which stands for the growing industry and parallels the increasing sense of misery and corruption. The urbanisation of the city has rippling effects on the residents of the city, which the speaker notes as they walk through the streets of London.
The main themes of the poem 'London' are:
William Blake, a Romantic Poet who lived most of his life in London.
The main theme of the poem London is the freedom and restriction of Londoners brought about by decay and death due to the industrialisation of the city.
The purpose of writing this poem is to observe and criticise the changes in London as a result of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, which lead to the misery of Londoners.
The poem London by William Blake is a critical commentary on the city of London and its changing pace due to the Industrial Revolution. The speaker of the poem walks through the streets of London, and notes the melancholy and resignation he sees in the face of Londoners.
The poem is narrated in the first person.
What poetry collection does London belong to?
Songs of Experience
In what year was the poem London published?
Who is the poet of London?
Which meter is the poem London written in?
What is the rhyme scheme of the poem London?
Which of the following is NOT a theme of the poem London?
What word does the acrostic in the 3rd stanza of London spell out?
What does 'chartered' allude to in the poem London?
The Royal Charters
Which of the following is NOT the tone of the poem?
Which of the following is NOT a sound the speaker hears when roaming the streets of London in the poem London?
The chanting of priests
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