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London -- William Blake

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.
-- William Blake
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

68 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Amit Chakrabarti said...

I agree with most of the comments, except that Blake is one
of the <i>clearest</i> examples of a first-rank poet. Indeed,
Britannica opines that "Blake is now regarded as one of the
earliest and greatest figures of Romanticism."

--AC

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I'm sorry but I have to disagreee, William Blake is a first rank poet of course, maybe not so much in his time because he was an excellent painter as well and he was more known by his paintings first and then by his poetry. But I agree with you about the analysis you said in the last paragraph, the poem is a criticism to the army, church, wealthy people, authorities that see infants on the streets crying in agony, starving to death and they do absolutely nothing. Blake wanted to emphazise the irony of the "progress" in his time. He was a prophet!

Haleyknitz said...

Blake was brilliant, ironic, metaphoric, lyric, and paradoxical. doesn't that make for a first rank poet?

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jimmy jam said...

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.
Thank you

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