A Symbolic Analysis of William Blake's London
.........In his reflection "London," William Blake laments the poverty
faced by the lower class of modern, industrialized London, and he can
find no note of consolation or hope for their future. The poet uses
this theme to dramatically depict the conditions in which the
oppressed lower class is forced to live; he develops the theme through
the use of sounds, symbolism, and an ironic twist of words in the last
line that expresses Blake's ultimate belief in the hopelessness of the
situation. The poem is dominated by a rigid iambic meter that mirrors
the rigidity and immutability of the lives of the poor and the
oppressive class system.
.........The first stanza begins with the poet describing himself
walking through the "charter'd" streets of the city near the
"charter'd" Thames-every aspect of the city has been sanctioned and
organized by the ruling class-seeing expressions of weakness and woe
on the faces of all the people he meets. The streets and the river
make up a network that has been laid out and chartered by the wealthy
class to control the poor. The poet walks among the poor,
participating in the drudgery of their daily lives; he feels their
misery as they endlessly struggle to survive as pawns of the class
.........In the second stanza Blake describes how in every voice of
every person he perceives their "mind-forg'd manacles." The people are
trapped, prisoners of the rigid class system that has been "forged" in
the minds of the elite class, whose members have taken measures to
prevent their wealth from ever reaching the poverty-stricken rabble.
This and all later stanzas focuses on the sounds that Blake hears,
particularly the cries of the poor, as he walks through the city.
.........The third stanza marks a change in tone to a more abstract,
symbolic depiction of a "black'ning Church" being "appalled" by the
"Chimney-sweeper's cry," and the sigh of a "hapless Soldier" running
in "blood down Palace walls." The Church is depicted as being allied
with the insensitive elite class: the pleas of the chimney-sweeper,
who is blackened with the soot of oppression and doomed to die young
of lung disease, are spurned by the Church-the supposed source of pity
and relief to the suffering-and in the process the Church "blackens"
itself. The institution has become hypocritical because, while it
still preaches pity, it fails to offer any remedy to the oppression of
the poor. The soldier, who should be a symbol of the strength and
glory of England, is nothing more than another poverty-stricken human,
and so the depiction of his sigh running in blood down palace walls
symbolizes that the beauty and glory of England-the palace-is marred
and made grotesque by the oppression of the soldier class.
.........The fourth and final stanza...