Self-Made Misery in Blake’s London
The poet William Blake paints a picture of the dirty, miserable streets of London in his poem, "London". He describes the wretched people at the bottom of the society, the chimney-sweeps, soldiers, and harlots. These people cry out from their pain and the injustices done to them. The entire poem centers around the wails of these people and what they have become due to wrongs done to them by the rest of society, primarily institutions such as the church and government. Are these people really wronged, however? The poem seems to suggest that the injustices they have been subjected to are of their own making.
In Blake's poem he says that as he passes through London he sees a "mark in every face [he] meet[s]/ Marks of weakness, marks of woe." (3-4) He talks about how everywhere he hears cries of fear and suppression. The church seems to be ignoring the cry of the poor chimney-sweep in lines nine and ten. The soldier dies on the palace walls with a sigh. These are examples of the wretchedness of the lives that people lead. The central idea of the poem, that people are hurt and lives are ruined, seems very apparent.
The key to the poem is the phrase "mind-forged manacles". On a first reading, this phrase is easy is pass over without much thought. However, upon a closer look, this phrase seems out of place. It suggests that the people described in the poem are wearing chains of their own making. The chains seem to be what is holding them down in society. The people certainly...