A Reading of William Blake’s London
William Blake channels his general dissatisfaction of the organization of society during the late eighteenth century in his lyrical poem entitled “London” (1794). Blake uses vividly expressive language through the spoken observations of a symbolic character he created to narrate and recite social and political problems afflicting this metropolis in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The poem’s rhythmically patterned linear style, which is very strictly structured, reinforces its central theme: that oppression will be revisited. Blake’s use of such elements of poetry as setting and situation, diction and tone, structure and form, symbols and images, sound and rhyme, and rhythm and meter to convey this strong message of political and social importance.
The title of the poem, coupled with the first stanza, establishes the setting in London (England) and describes the social environment that frames the characters (the city’s residents) and their surroundings. The title designates the exact location of the setting and immediately informs the reader that it takes place in London. Although the lyric is written in first-person singular, the speaker is not the poet. Blake sensibly creates a persona that expresses subjective thoughts and expressions to refer to the speaker’s personal experiences in order to emphasize penetrating resonance of the poem’s diction. “London” reflects the period in which it was written by depicting the very image of most of urban life during the period of Romanticism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many of the libertarian movements during this period were induced by the romantic philosophy, or the desire to be free of convention and tyranny, and the new emphasis on individual rights. As illustrated in Alexander Pope’s “From An Essay on Criticism,” eighteenth century literature was marked by critical and intellectual writers. Just as the insistence on rational, formal, and conventional subject matter that had typified neoclassicism was reversed, the authoritarian regimes that had encouraged and sustained neoclassicism in the arts were inevitably subjected to these popular revolutions. Effected by a century of wars and citizen revolutions, the
writers were stimulated by the creative activity of the French Revolution; thus literature often criticized the oppressive nature of government. Political and social causes became dominant themes in romantic poetry and prose throughout the Western world, producing many vital human documents that are still pertinent.
The first stanza of Blake’s poem is critical to its central meaning because the Romantic era was marked with the indictment of the metropolis; and consequently directly sketches the political and social picture in London as that of dark, squalid, authoritative, and tyrannical city. The repetition of the word “charter” (3, 4) illustrates the municipality’s strict control over its nation. The fact that the...