Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!
Print

English Literature

Structure and language

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Back
  2. Next

Language

The tone of the poem is at times biblical, reflecting Blake's strong interest in religion. It is as if the speaker is offering a prophesy of the terrible consequences unless changes are made in the city.

In the first stanza, Blake uses repetition twice, firstly using the word "charter'd". This is a reference to the charters that allocated ownership and rights to specific people. Many, including Blake, saw this as robbing ordinary people of their rights and freedoms.

The second use of repetition is with the word "marks". This has a dual meaning: it refers to the physical marks carried by people as a result of the conditions they endure, and is also suggestive of the speaker recording evidence during his walk through the city streets.

In the first three lines of stanza two, the speaker makes it clear that "every" sound he hears is evidence of the "mind-forg'd manacles". Manacles are like handcuffs. The speaker is suggesting that people's minds are restricted and confined - that the city has robbed them of the ability to think.

The poem is full of negative words: "weakness", "woe", "cry", "fear", "appals", "blood", "blights", "plagues" and "hearse" are just some of them.

The poem ends with a startling contrast in the language chosen: "marriage hearse". To Blake, marriage should be a celebration of love and the beginning of new life. Yet here it is combined with the word "hearse" - a vehicle associated with funerals. To the speaker of the poem, the future brings nothing but death and decay.

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Back
  2. Next

Back to William Blake: London index

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.