‘London’ by William Blake [Poem Review]

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Another really short but interesting poem to review this week from William Blake this time. Unlike in the Wordsworth poem I wrote about last week, link here if you want to read it, this poem focuses on the inhabitants of the city instead of the city itself. Specifically, about how the people are alienated by the very city they inhabit because the “charter’d street[s]” don’t really belong to them but to a privileged class above them. Don’t want to make too many connections to Wordsworth but he saw the city as beautiful while he was above it and Blake sees it as desolate while being in the streets so… take from that what you will.

The stanza that really caught my eye was the third one and it’s the one I’m going to focus on in this post. For one thing, it’s the only stanza that breaks the long hymnal measure of the rest of the poem.

How the Chimney-sweepers cry

Every blackening Church appalls,

And the hapless Soldier’s sigh

Runs in blood down Palace walls.

Lines 9-12

Let’s focus on the first couple lines first. The cries of the chimney-sweep appall the Church as if they are surprised by the cries–the Church has neglected the needs of the people. It might also be implied that the Church is somehow disguised that they can even hear the cries of someone such as the chimney sweep.

Remember the long hymnal measure I mentioned above? Hymns are usually associated with the Church so it’s interesting that Blake is using something that the Church uses to preach morality and turns it around on them to critique their negligence… Except in the stanza where the Church is being addressed directly.

(Should I be worried that there are church bells chiming while I’m writing this?)

Image from Coombesy

The second couple lines, I think, link into this and take in even further by involving the government into the critique. The Soldier’s cries take physical form–no longer only sound–as they run like blood as they echo against the walls. There is definitely an implication of death to the common soldier with the people running the country being safely behind closed doors, untouched by the bloodshed.

This was my first time reading Blake and I have to say that, even with the shortness of this poem it had a lot of power behind it. Not only were the words beautifully put together but there was a kind of relentlessness to them–Blake wants the reader to understand what the city looks like to someone wondering the streets at night during this time period.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

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