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English Literature

Sample question

What might you want to say about the poet's attitude towards the city in the poem London? Briefly note down some points you would want to include in your essay, then compare your ideas with those in our sample answer on the next page.

Sample answer

  • The speaker repeats the word "charter'd", indicating his dismay at the fact that everything in the city is owned, even the river.
  • Blake uses a caesura in line 4 to reinforce the impact of city life on the people living there.
  • The poem is full of negative language, which reveals the speaker's attitude to the city.
  • There are several references to violence, suggesting the speaker views the city as a danger to all who inhabit it. There is the "cry of fear", the sigh of a soldier "Runs in blood down Palace walls", new-born infants are blasted, and marriage is blighted.
  • The speaker makes reference to the dirty conditions, which spoil everything, from churches to children.
  • Sounds are an important element in the poem, representing the great noise the city produces as the speaker "wander[s] thro" it. There are cries, the sound of "mind-forg'd manacles" and curses. These sounds are all the result of anguish and pain, caused by conditions in the city.
  • The city is presented as a place where the usual morality is ignored, with negative consequences. Prostitution, which is prevalent, is seen as damaging the future of the family, both physically and spiritually.

Back to William Blake: London index

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