Write about the way Place is presented in the poem ‘London’ by William Blake. (15)
William Blake was a Romantic poet who had strong beliefs on rebellion and his poem, ‘London’, taken from his dark and disturbing ‘Songs of experience’ demonstrates the pain many experienced through the 17-1800s of London.
Extreme poverty was common in the time period, and mercy was not shown. The fact that the streets are ‘charter’d’ implies that the streets are controlled by the rich and that the poor are left with no liberty. This could be Blake illustrating his ideas about individuality and freedom (Romantic), and he wants to demonstrate how London was almost a prison for those suffering-with no opportunity to get them out. This idea of imprisonment can be reinforced with the ‘mid forg’d manacles’ implying a lack of mental strength. This denotes the population of London as Blake is ignoring physical pain and focusing on mental suffering, suggesting how a change in thought process for many people could better their lives. This could be achieved through a rebellion, which is a key aspect of Romantic views, and Blake could be proposing that the poor need to break through the ‘manacles’ in their head and stand up for justice.
The second stanza sees a build in the staggering magnitude of people suffering. The repetition of ‘every’ highlights mass depression,linked to a semantic field of voice – ‘cry,’ ‘voice,’ ‘hear’- and this builds a huge force of voices of the poor. Blake would again be encouraging rebellion as his poem could be seen as giving them rights to a voice and encouraging them to be louder. The ‘cry’ of a ‘chimney-sweeper’ is linked to the ‘black’ning church.’ This could be Blake depicting the absence of children, as well as implying the church to be corrupt and not a safe haven that many people would expect. This implies that London is full of constant danger and fear.
The final stanza sees a climax to the build up of issues regarding London, which makes me feel the pain some went through very realistically. The ‘Harlot’s curse’ and ‘Infant’s tear’ is an example of antithesis and the ‘curse’ could be foul language, which is unacceptable around ‘infants’. Alternatively, it could be a curse that is given to the infant as they are born, and contracting diseases that are related to prostitution, it could be Blake re-iterating the theme of death and saying that kids are born to die. The fact that the curse ‘blasts’ suggests a loud and scary sound and is overpowering any innocence the infant has.
The ‘Marriage hearse’ is a fitting ending to a summary of London, and the ‘hearse’ is the vehicle that transports a coffin, highlighting how everything ends in a death. The juxtaposition of ‘Marriage’ could be Blake saying that there is no hope of love in the society and the ‘plagues’ and ‘blights’ are all too powerful, killing off any love people may have. This makes me realise how different this is to modern day society, as the families in ‘London’ aren’t even gifted the freedom of living life- it is taken away from them, just like anything they should’ve gotten in the real world. Blake could be complaining about industry ruining the world, as Romanticism appreciates nature. Overall, Blake could be implying there is no hope at salvaging any love or hope from this hell he lives in.
PT 2: Comparison theme of place London as printed poem and Living Space
Both Blake’s ‘London’ and Imitaz Dharker’s ‘Living Space’ explore themes of place, however ‘London’ illustrates the ruining of nature by industry (To Blake’s concern due to nature’s effect on Romanticism) and ‘Living Space’ is more understanding of what it was like, and is, and how people have adapted to survive.
Dharker describes the slums in Bombay as ‘crooked’ and highlights the ‘nails clutch at open seams.’ This could be seen as a desperate attempt by whatever is holding together the slums to keep everything in order, and implying how life there is very precarious and dangerous. Alternatively, this could be seen as an open wound, that is being exposed to dirt and infection, and this could reflect the poor standards of living as well as poor expectations of what society is in Bombay. This is mirrored in ‘London’ in the ‘marks of woe’ demonstrating how nothing is done about physical injuries, highlighting a lack of ability to help each other, and possibly a lack of ability to love each other. This can be reinforced with the antithesis of ‘Marriage hearse’ implying how any love in a marriage immediately links to death. This isn’t present in ‘Living Space’ as the structure leans ‘dangerously towards the miraculous.’ Dharker could be demonstrating how everything leans towards God in the form of the ‘miraculous’ implying how love is always there-if not for each other, for God.
One of Dharker’s attributes is raising awareness of issues in other countries, and this could be Dharker inviting a way to make things better in Bombay, calling on the reader’s emotion, depicting Bombay’s need of better conditions and creating a sense of begging for help. The conditions are extreme. This is mirrored in ‘London’ with ‘every ban’. This implies a constant flow of new rules that poor people have to follow, which is a flow that gradually removes any freedom the poor have until they wither away into nothing. This gradual removal of liberty could be seen to increase rapidly as ‘plagues’ are introduced, and the fact that Blake denotes the ‘church’ as ‘black’ning’ (which is a Romantic view that influences individuality) could be a hint that the reason for all the pain is God.
There is a direct contrast of a hate for religion in ‘Living Space’ as a key topic is the ‘eggs in a wire basket.’ This could be seen as a beacon of hope that defies the typical theme of pain in a slum, and is possibly something divine that the population look up to like a God. This isn’t present in ‘London’ as the repetition of ‘every’ linking to a ‘cry’ implies that the population is looking down and has given up. Dharker continues to develop the ‘eggs’ as something holy as it is placed over a ‘slanted universe’. This is a reference to Bombay, and the fact that it is ‘slanted’ depicts how everything is slowly moving off the edge, however the people are doing everything to cling on. This brings a sense of unity to the people there, as they have to act as one group with no conflict in order to survive. Dharker presents this in a way that makes the people sound positive, as the eggs are ‘gathering the light’ – possibly a reference to the people gathering around it as one big family. However, in ‘London’, this is different as despite the poor people still being one group and clinging onto the place they live in, they are depicted as negative. This can be seen with the antithesis of ‘Harlot’s curse’ and ‘infant’. The ‘curse’ would be something that stays with you for life- similar to the unity of staying in Bombay for life, but appreciating the imperfections- which in this case, is a brand of prostitution. As many diseases are related to prostitution as well as the talk of ‘plagues’, the placement of prostitutes next to ‘infant’ could be Blake explaining how if you are born into the ‘London’ society you are born to die.
This is contrasted in Dharker’s poem, as the poem is concluded on the word ‘faith.’ The fact that the curse ‘blasts’ in ‘London’ demonstrates how it is louder than innocence, however in ‘Living Space’ the ‘faith’ is louder than any other topic mentioned as it is an ongoing point throughout the poem. This highlights how faith can overtake anything and is more important on a mental level than any difficulties in physical life, which is opposed to the ‘mind forged manacles’ that hold the poor down so much mentally in ‘London.’
Overall, I feel that Bombay is a nicer place to live in than ‘London’ as although the slums are described as ‘nothing is parallel’, it has a mental quality that is unique to any other place, ‘faith’, and unity. The middle stanza is ‘squeezed’ in, reiterating how people help each other out by making room for a ‘living space’- not a home. This implies people have no purpose there, which is seen with the mass depression (repetition of ‘every’) in ‘London’, but the people of Bombay are fine with that because they believe that possibly later/after life, they will rise to the ‘miraculous.’