The Theme of the Suffering Innocent in Blake's London
The poem "London" by William Blake paints a frightening, dark picture of the eighteenth century London, a picture of war, poverty and pain. Written in the historical context of the English crusade against France in 1793, William Blake cries out with vivid analogies and images against the repressive and hypocritical English society. He accuses the government, the clergy and the crown of failing their mandate to serve people. Blake confronts the reader in an apocalyptic picture with the devastating consequences of diseasing the creative capabilities of a society.
Choosing the first person form in the first and fourth stanza, the poet reflects his personal experiences with the city of London. He adheres to a strict form of four stanzas with each four lines and an ABAB rhyme. The tone of the poem changes from a contemplative lyric quality in the first to a dramatic sharp finale in the last stanza. The tone in the first stanza is set by regular accents, iambic meter and long vowel sounds in the words "wander", "chartered", "flow" and "woe", producing a grave and somber mood.
The verb "wanders" connotes contemplative walking without specific destination through streets that are described as "chartered". But the word "street" is ambiguous. While it could be the home of people, a neighborhood and a place for emotional refuge, the streets and the river Thames are "chartered"; they are defined as commercial entities where business and cold cash dominates. The scene is set in which the poet sees the unhappy citizens of London. Their faces reflect the common man's physical and spiritual suffering through "marks of weakness, marks of woes". The repetition of the word "marks" underlines the graveness of the situation and enhances the lyric quality. This somber mood and sadness contrasts with the business qualities of the city sharply and reveals the underlying sarcasm and critical accusations against the commercial institutions of the city.
The tempo increases in the second stanza due to short and choppy vowel sounds, while the mood changes to an active outrage against oppression. The consonant "y" replicates the sounds of cries, recreating the experience of audible pain that the people and the poet suffered. Repetitions and alliteration of the word "every" creates an urgency and a common bond between the different elements of society. The responsible adult "every man", the "infant", a symbol of innocence and helplessness, "every voice", the writers, and "every ban", the rebel, all these members of society experience oppression. The common bond is expressed metaphorically in the "mind-forged manacles?, giving us the horrifying sound of clanking iron chains, which were so common and terrifying in those days.
But is not simply sound, it is the image of manacles, cuffs, hammered into the minds of people, as a blacksmith beats the iron into shape, that completes the...