Guest poem sent in by Katherine E. Hudson
(Poem #1431) London
I wander thro' each charter'd street, Near where the charter'd Thames does flow, And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe. In every cry of every Man, In every Infant's cry of fear, In every voice, in every ban, The mind-forg'd manacles I hear. How the Chimney-sweeper's cry Every black'ning Church appalls; And the hapless Soldier's sigh Runs in blood down Palace walls. But most thro' midnight streets I hear How the youthful Harlot's curse Blasts the new born Infant's tear, And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.
I was talking about this poem with a friend this evening and went to the Minstrels site looking for it. I was surprised by its absence, as I think it's one of Blake's best-crafted efforts. Though I like Blake a lot for his views, commitment, and occasional memorable phrase (not to mention his art), I don't really think he was a first-rank poet. But "London" hangs together beautifully in terms of coherent and powerful imagery as well as rhyme and meter. Two metaphors in the poem are especially heart-rending: "the hapless Soldier's sigh/ Runs in blood down Palace walls" and "the youthful Harlot's curse/. . . /Blights with plagues the Marriage hearse." (Though, bearing in mind the risk of veneral disease, the latter may not be metaphor so much as acknowledgment of reality.) Much could also be said about how this poem expresses Blake's enduring concern with issues of personal freedom and social justice--e.g., restrictive laws, hypocrisy in organized religion, poverty and the evils that flow from it, including disease (testicular cancer was recognized in Blake's time as an occupational hazard of chimney-sweeps) and prostitution. Katherine E. Hudson