Research Paper: William Blake's London

Pages: 4 (1212 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper

Suffering in William Blake's "London"

William Blake's poem, "London," revives a certain place and time in Great Britain when mankind seemed to be hanging on the precipice of disaster. The city is in pain and a good deal of this pain comes from society itself. The things mankind works to achieve and the things he thinks he needs are often the things that bring eventual destruction and despair. The poet explores this notion by observing free people in a city where freedom seems to be the least of anyone's concern. Happiness is more than modernity but it is difficult to define from where happiness comes in this scene. The Church and the government are often seen as pillars in the community, offering strength and support but this is an idealist view of what these institutions can actually do for mankind. Through powerful imagery and a touch of irony, Blake forces us to look at what causes man the most pain and, in this case, it is something he created in hopes to find a brighter future not a bleak forecast.

"London" asks us to look at the types of decay eating away at the city. Social and religious matters weight the city down rather than create an atmosphere of building up the individual. Roy Graves points out how the poem is a "dark social commentary" (Graves), focusing on the misery of the people to prove his points. The poem is:

Overwhelmingly concerned with social and political acts and . . . revolves around the institutions of Church, Law, property, generational inheritance and marriage" (Esterhammer 23), writes Esterhammer. Social institutions have already labeled individuals, according to Esterhammer. The poem is also concerned with the "power of discourse to effect . . . Of physical life and human relationships. (24)

We see this in the poet's recollection. As he walks the streets, he sees "marks of weakness, marks of woe" (Blake 4) on the faces of those around him. He hears "every cry of man" (5) and the "Chimney-sweeper's cry / Every blackening Church appalls, / and the hapless Soldier's sigh" (9-12). Continuing on, he hears how the "youthful Harlot's curse / Blasts the new-born Infant's tear, / and blights with plagues the Marriage hearse" (14-6). These scenes are gripping and the saddest aspect of them is that it does not take much to imagine them. In the last scene, the poet attempts to show us the fear he experienced when he heard the baby cry. Martin Price states the "visible stain has become a virulent infection, and its power is caught in the terrible poetic condensation that sees the marriage coach as already a hearse" (Price). The existence of the youthful harlot . . . is more than a source of physical infection; it is a symptom of the moral disease . . . Each cry or sigh or curse arises from a single individual's grief" (Price). Each baby represents another human life that was headed toward suffering and oppression. Stephen Lambert notes that the "Church is simultaneously a blackener and self-blackening" (Lambert). The Sweeper is covered in soot, which is what Lambert refers to as Blake's "sense of karmic justice that the Church's impiety and scorn are reverted" (Lambert). The Soldier's sigh stains the walls of the institution with blood just as the Sweeper's cry lands on his oppressor, "blackening it in kind" (Lambert). These images are connected with their pain and seemingly unanswerable situation.

The poem is as mental as it is physical. Harold Pagliaro maintains the poem represents "powerful overflow of inner state into outer world" (Pagliaro), as it explores the "destructive work done… [END OF PREVIEW]

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