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William Blake’s London

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William Blake’s London

London, by William Blake

William Blake’s poem, London, is a very dark and rich work that reflects Blake’s feelings of disillusionment and sorrow over the inequalities he saw in London, England. First published in 1794 in Songs of Experience, London shows the horrors and suffering that were commonplace in Europe at that time.

William Blake was born in London, England, into meager circumstances. He was educated by his mother and became proficient in art, especially engraving. An artist throughout his life, Blake had his own unique style that reflected his philosophy and mystic view of the world. Biblical and spiritual themes were common in his work. Blake claimed to be able to speak with Old Testament prophets, see visions, and have communication with the dead. While Blake deeply embraced the Bible, he rejected the institutionalized religions of his time, deeming them to be oppressive. On the day of his death at age 69, he was working on illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, and then left the world reciting verses and hymns with his wife. The way he chose to spend his last living moments shows the devotion Blake had to his beliefs.

As is evidenced in London, Blake was a firsthand witness to many of the social injustices of his time. He blamed many of these social ills on the abuse of organized religion and the aristocracy. Blake saw the institution of the Church and the Royals in England as a burden, oppressing the common people. This is seen in the first and second stanzas of London, where Blake writes, “I wandered through each chartered street/Near where the chartered Thames does flow/A mark in every face I meet/Marks of weakness, marks of woe.…. In every voice, in every ban/The mind-forged manacles I hear”. The way Blake describes the oppressed as having a mark of weakness and woe in their faces bring to mind those who have been battered and abused by life. The “mind-forged manacles” connote a mental, rather than physical burden the people suffer from, and one which is self-created. The people Blake described were trapped in their pitiful existence in a hopeless situation.

The imagery in London helps bring the sense of despair and darkness which accompanied everyday life in the mid-18th century England to the reader. The third stanza,

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