Composed Upon Westminster Bridge
This poem is also one large extended metaphor. The poet has described London as though it was a living breathing city. All of the words describing this give it a better cohesion and gives a positive feeling throughout the poem. Personification is used to describe inanimate objects as though they were alive, such as the sun which is an effective simile. The river is also described as if it has its own will. The poet used a semantic field of beauty to express his positive view of London but by doing this, he has neglected to show the negative things of London as if he cannot see them. The poet also describes London as if it was a rural scene and implies that if you do not share his positive view, then your soul is dull. The city is described as calm and tranquil rather then crowded and noisy.
This poem is full of despair. When the poet lived in London at the time in the 19th century, living conditions were appalling. Houses were little more then hovels and were built close together with no privacy and no inside toilets. Hygiene was unheard of; people threw the contents of their toilets out of the window along with their household rubbish into the street. Disease was everywhere and life expectancy was short. Children were expected to begin to work when they were aged four years old. People were unhealthy as their daily diet probably consisted of potatoes, bread and little else (possibly not even that), and so this unhealthiness was evident in their complexions. Foreign wars were occurring at the time so soldiers were being killed. Young girls would have been working as prostitutes from the age of 8 or 9 and so marriage would not have been sacred.
In the second stanza, the “mind forged manacles” are used as imagery to make us aware of the fact that the working people of London were not free. In their heads they thought of themselves as prisoners, because they have no money and relied on any sort of work or crime to raise money to feed themselves. They didn’t actually wear “manacles” which were types of handcuffs with chains, but they may as well have for all the freedom they had. They were prisoners to the life they were born into.
In the third stanza, “the chimney sweepers cry”, tiny young boys were being used as chimney sweepers as described in Charles Dickens books. Getting killed whilst doing this job was very common. The poet then likens a soldiers sigh as running blood and the word “hapless” was used, meaning the soldier had no control over his life either, he must obey orders. The blackening church may mean that religion did not account for much in peoples lives at the time or he may be suggesting that the church is covered in soot, thus conveying the dirt of London.
In the 4th stanza, the poet describes the scene in the streets of London at midnight where he hears young prostitutes “youthful harlots” cursing and then goes on to mention new born babies and a marriage hearse, which would suggest that new born infants meant nothing and that marriage is dead hence the use of the word “hearse” to describe the death of marriage. I don’t feel that the imagery in this poem is affective as it is in daily London recipe because it’s not as clear cut. It is all mixed up and I think it is a difficult poem to understand, as it is necessary to know the historical background of William Blake to fully understand the message he is portraying.