On Blake

A Quick Study of Blake, 2013

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Found on Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43673/london-56d222777e969

William Blake, an Industrial Era poet, possessed a keen eye for identifying and

commenting on distinct social lines that surrounded man during the age. Many of his works− including “London”− addressed this distressing division with a mournful tone. Chimney sweepers were often central subjects in his pieces (because soot has so very many analogies to life in its most dreary state) to underline the hardships faced by the common and lower-charted working class. “London” specifically seems to be crying out to any who would hear using repetitive literary elements, parallelism, and personification.

Blake’s introduction is rather straightforward. He immediately addresses the “charter’d” streets repeating ‘charted’ as a harsh reminder of the Victorian confinements to social classes. Furthermore, Blake uses a ‘w’ alliteration− “wander”, “weakness”, “woe”− to underline the depression of his wandering thoughts and the oppression of the lower class. Blake continues using repetition throughout the poem using “every” to individualize the different subjects, the hard “b” in “Blasts” and “blights” allowing the reader to associate the acts with blunt forces, and “mark” as a symbolic repetition.

Beginning with “mark”, “London” is shock-full of parallel meaning. “Mark” originally means “see” and later is understood to translate as visible indications, emotional scars, and the general lower class demeanor. Blake’s parallel meanings often use ironic contrast to make his point. Utterly obviously, church should be a welcoming body of Christian principles inviting all peoples as Christ the founder had. Instead, Blake’s capitalized “Church” is a reality check on the era’s social division− especially within the Church of England.

Not only do the capitalized words wave a red flag of parallelism, they also personify the abstract obstacles and faceless masses of the impoverished. “Man… Infants… Chimney-sweepers… Church… Soldiers… Palace… Marriage…” all capitalize the distinction between the various social classes visibly. Not only does the reader imagine a slum, the reader sees, hears, and feels the depth of the poor man and infant and Harlot. Not only does one see the church as an atrocity, but a black, inky perversity of God’s dominion.

Indeed, Blake craftily, but openly criticizes and despairs about the social hierarchy of his time. Perhaps technology was advancing, but society was regressing. The men of the age were chartering natural things− such as flowing Thames water− including the rights of humans, be they rich or poor. Blake’s use of repetition, parallelism, and personification in “London” tell all there is need to know of the dirge of the oppressed.

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