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Analysis of "London" by William Blake

Updated on December 26, 2015

Text of "London"

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 cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

Meaning of the Title

“London” refers to the major city in England (and not to the author Jack London). Blake was a British poet and had many ties to London. The poem’s only direct reference to London is the Thames river. England’s government is centralized in London. It plausible that he is implying that all of these misfortunes and tragedies are stemming from this place.

Paraphrase Summary of "London"

I walk through the streets of London next to the River Thames and everyone that I see looks tired and depressed. In every cry from man, and in every cry of fear from children and in every voice, I can hear the metaphorical shackles that people make for themselves. I can see it in how the lower class looks so sad and how the unlucky soldiers die for our government. But mostly, I can hear the seedy parts of town that arise from poverty and how childbirth and marriage are being desecrated.

Important Connotation in the Poem

By using words like “blackning” and “plagues” and “hearse” and “blood” and “manacles”, Blake sets up a very dark and disturbing picture. He does an effective job of evoking pity and sorrow for these people. It’s interesting why he chooses to mention Thames. He has also capitalized nouns to increase their importance. This generalizes them, so that there are Harlots and Infants and Man, but nothing important or specific. Also, a hearse should symbolize DEATH, not marriage.

William Blake
William Blake

Use of Attitude

Blake doesn’t sound bitter or resentful, but just plain sad. He sounds resigned to the fact that life isn’t going so great and that he wishes that he could do something about it, but he just can’t. This poem would be best placed in a newspaper as part of the opinion/editorial page.

Shifts in Tone or Meaning

The first shift occurs after the first stanza. Blake is setting the stage for the rest of the poem. Then, right before the last stanza, Blake shifts again. This sets up the true meaning behind this classic poem. The claims stated at the end are the real meat behind his argument.

Theme of "London"

Ultimately, this poem is saying that when a government stops caring about the people, that’s when society goes downhill and everyone gets sad. That’s when a generation of “young Harlots” arises. Instead of being politically active, he is rather remarking from the outside the sad nature of government negligence upon a city or people.

What did you think of this poem?

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