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WilliamBlake's poems - London Poem.

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Coursework on William Blake's poems. London Poem. 'London' steadily builds up increasingly comprehensive answers to its initial problem of why every face shows, 'marks of weakness and woe'. With its 'midnight streets', it is true; London is a forest of the night in which one may wander, lost. The city wanderer arrives somewhere by the end: at a vision that traces unhappy people to the institions the oppress them and links all of them to 'mind-forg'd manacles'. This is a poem whose difficulties are due to compression rather than to radical uncertainty or ambiguity. 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. A charter may grant liberties to certain people, but at the same time it denies them to others. Whole streets and the Thames itself are lined with commercial establishments-shops, wharves and warehouses-and the people are marked like branded slaves. When we look ahead to the victims named in the poem-chimney Sweepers, soldier, harlot and wife-we see how 'charter'd' has prepared us to understand what they suffer in common. ...read more.


The second, is to bring what we see home to other minds in vivid language and image. Hence How the Chimney- sweepers cry Every blackning Church appalls, And the hapless Soldiers sigh, Runs in blood down Palace walls[.] This language has a biblical ring and the images are apocalyptic. What is appalling? What and what is blackening? What! ' Blackening might be intransitve, telling us that churches grow black, literally and figuratively, in the London air. Taken transitively, its object must be the chimney sweeper, whose task it sometimes is, of course, to remove the black from the churches own chimneys. By sanctioning the practice of sending little boys up chimneys the Church has not only failed in its duty to protect God's children, but has blackened their minds with mysterious justifications of things as they are, making up a heaven of their misery. The blackened little boys that emerge from the chimneys become the sacrificial victims under the dismal shade of mystery. As I stated earlier, 'appals' as an active verb had connotations lost in the more frequent modern use, in the passive voice. ...read more.


What does this mean? The blast could be the breath escaping the harlot when she curses the 'Marriage hearse'. We might, imagine her screaming, 'A plague on you!' as a wedding party drives past, and blowing away the frightened tears from the cheeks of the baby she holds in her arms. Or, since she does not want the baby, she might be cursing it for its cry of woe. But 'blast' as verb or noon also connotes disease or blight; since biblical times diseases were thought to be borne on the wind. It was known in Blake's day that a form of gonorrhoea could infect babies at birth and cause blindness within weeks. So the harlot's midnight business curses her baby, and not only hers but her client's bride's baby as well, for she transmits her plagues to all her customers and their families. The image of the infant blighted in it's birth is, echoed in the poem's final phrase, in which a wedding carriage is transformed into a funeral hearse (vehicle). Jonathan Avis 10XEng ...read more.

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