English Literature

Structure and language

Structure

As the title of the collection suggests, London is presented in a very regular way, much like a song. There is a strict abab rhyme scheme in each of the four stanzas.

The four stanzas offer a glimpse of different aspects of the city, almost like snapshots seen by the speaker during his "wander thro'" the streets.

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.

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