London Poem by William Blake Analysis

One of the most influential English poets William Blake was also an artist besides being a poet. He belongs to the school of romantics but unlike others, he does not write poetry for the purpose of poetry only. His poetry conveys several messages. Thus, there is morality as well as deep spirituality in his poetry. The poem “London” by William Blake is a remarkable example of it in which he creates an analysis of the social and political problems of his era.  His vision is strong due to which he sees the world from a wide angle. He points out some drawbacks of society; therefore, his poetry contains the social and political structures of his time.

The poem “London” was published in 1794. It has been added to his collection of poems “Songs of Experience”. The second important collection of poems is “Songs of Innocence ”. Both collections are entirely opposite to each other. In “Songs of Innocence ” the poet talks about the life of childhood whereas in “Songs of Experience ” he explores the words of maturity.

The poet uses many literary devices in the poem; especially, the imagery that he uses is worth mentioning. He also uses several metaphors to elucidate his point of view. The poem is based on political and social problems. Thus, the poet sheds light on the misery of life as modern life is advancing rapidly. He also talks about the growing industrial city of London during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 

The writer uses the technique of satire to criticise the Church as well as the administration. He puts their follies in front of his readers to judge whether they are responsible for the sufferings of the people or not. In short, the poem “London” elucidates the condition of people under corrupt administration.


The poet starts the poem while mentioning the streets of London as “charter’d”. It means that they are controlled by a force. The poet actually wants to say that he cannot find freedom in the streets of London. There is poverty everywhere and people have become pessimistic due to the abundance of problems that remain with them. The poet says that miseries reflect the faces of people. 

He describes the further miserable condition of humankind; especially the people of London. The imagery that he creates in the second stanza of the poem is of “midnight streets”. He says that everyone cries in the city due to the pain. Perhaps, he talks about the inner pain that people feel. Everyone has fear; the children, the infants, the men and the women. He specifically uses the word “plagues” as a metaphor as well as a symbol to make clear that the prostitutes do not appear in the streets because of poverty; rather, the poet thinks they are a threat to society.

The third stanza of the poem “London” creates an analysis of “mind-forged manacles”. The poet talks about every profession which is there in the city. He says that people want freedom but no one does anything for it. They only cry as they are victims of circumstances. The poet mentions facts to prove that the church as well as the government is responsible for maintaining the chains of slavery.

Lastly, the word “hearse” is the most important in the fourth stanza of the poem. It suggests that there is no hope for the city to survive or to get freedom. Even the “youthful harlot” and the “newborn infant” are trapped in the cycle of poverty and despair. The poem ends with a gloomy atmosphere.

London Poem by William Blake Stanza 1 Analysis

The first stanza of the poem creates the setting of the poem. It starts with the main theme that the poet wants to portray through poetry. The theme of oppression is very much clear from the very first lines of the poem. “Charter’d street” is a symbol that the poet uses to emphasise the lack of freedom which is there in the city. The life of people is controlled. They are not free to live. The poet does not clarify the reason behind it but symbols and metaphors are there to disclose the reason behind it. The poet conveys his message indirectly as he uses many wonderful literary devices in this poem. 

The second image in this stanza is of “Thames”. Mostly, the poet uses the “Thames” river to show the beauty of nature in Lonon but it is a main symbol of the poem to portray the theme of disparity. The river no longer remains natural in the eyes of the poet. He thinks that it has been changed. Even the river is controlled. Symbolically, there is no control over nature yet somehow if it is controlled, it creates fear, horror and despair. In short, the people were living in a very restrictive environment.

The poet wrote the poem at a time when there was a rapid growth of industries in London city. However, people were suffering from extreme poverty, disease, and social inequality at the same time. The poet says that he sees “marks of weakness” and “marks of woe” on every face that he meets in his city. He creates such scenes to elucidate the theme of despair along with the primary theme of oppression. The depressed condition of people is very much clear in the first stanza of the poem. At the end of this stanza, the word “woe” symbolises hatred. It is detestation that is there in the minds of people against the administration. 

Stanza 2 Analysis

The poet continues the theme of this poem. William Blake creates an analysis of the emotional and psychological pain of people in the second stanza of his poem “London”. The poet listens to the hue and cry of people even if none of them talks to the poet. He is a keen observer of human nature; therefore, he knows what they think and what they want. Here in this part of the poem, subjectivity prevails. The poem may contain universal themes but undoubtedly the poet talks about the condition of people who are living around him.

There is the repetition of the phrase “in every”. The poet uses this literary device to clarify that he does not talk about life in London at an individualistic level but talks as a whole. He speaks about the majority. He also emphasises through this phrase that nobody is excluded. The poet mentions “man” and “infants” as metaphors to include every person belonging to the age of minor to young and ultimately to old.

In order to give emotional stress, the poet uses the word “infants”. It highlights the vulnerability as well as the helplessness of innocents which gains emotional sympathy. In addition, “mind-forg’d manacles” at last indicate the psychological pain of the masses. They are imprisoned not physically but mentally which to some extent is self-created. Humans are the worst enemy of humans and the poet stresses this well-known universal fact while showing oppression of government over people.

London Poem by William Blake Stanza 3 Analysis

The poet describes the miserable lives of people who were forced to do dangerous tasks. The first line of this stanza, “How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry” calls from emotional distress. Physical work exhausts an individual but mental labour causes pain in the mind. The poet illustrates this principle in the first line of this stanza. One of the social problems that the poet discusses in the poem is related to labourers. This stanza is the best example that the poet highlighting the social problems of his time in the poem “London”.

The poet goes further talking about some more social problems that are endangering human life in London city. “Every black’ning Church appalls” is a direct attack on religious corruption. He strikes the minds while mentioning it straight in the poem whereas the word “black’ning” is a symbol of continuous decay. If something is not done to cure it then it would ruin the system. The churches should give comfort, peace and hope to people but none of them is there when people visit the church. In this way, the poem also shares the theme of Philip Larkin’s poem “Church Going”. 

Another image that the poet creates is of a soldier. He is also not happy. The soldier also stands in the line of oppressed people of London. He is also marked by harsh experiences. The poet mentions one soldier but he means to indicate to every soldier that was living in London city. The poet continuously describes the theme of oppression, vulnerability and helplessness. In this stanza, the poet clears that he wants a change in the system rather than in a specific field. 

Stanza 4 Analysis

The stanza starts with something contradictory: “But most through midnight streets I hear,”. The speaker changes his focus from the soldier and again talks about the streets of London. He says that he hears the voices of people at midnight when they talk. He feels their pain as he is part of the city. The poet is able to sense the emotions and experiences of those who are living in the city. 

The poet promotes the theme of injustice and suffering in the last stanza of the poem. He had made a reference to the “hapless” soldier and now he mentions “youthful” harlot through which he highlights the injustice and suffering experienced by people who are residing with him in the streets and the administration is not doing anything. It is because either it has become helpless or corrupt.

In addition, the poet also uses the theme of social decay in the final stanza. The mention of the “plagues” that blight the marriage hearse suggests a society that is diseased and in a state of decay whereas the curse of the youthful harlot on the other hand promotes the theme of corruption and immorality present in society. It seems that innocence and purity are under attack.

The poet ends the poem in despair. He either talks about the sufferings of people or the problems that he sees around him but does not give solutions to the problems. The poet highlights them and leaves it to the government to make all-out efforts to cure the diseases, poverty and oppression in order to save the city from further disasters.

Why did William Blake write the Poem “London”

The poem “London” by William Blake is a response to the social and political analysis of life in London city. The poet has written many wonderful romantic poems but his vision is not limited to nature only. He is also a reformer; therefore, there is morality in his poetry. He wants a change in the system, hence, he wishes that something should be done to make the lives of people better. The poem “London” by Wiliam Blake sketches the life of people in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in London city.

The poet mentions that people were living miserable life. One of the major reasons behind it is the rapid industrial growth in the city. In addition to industrial growth, the population also increased. Thus, people started facing miseries due to poverty. In fact, it was extreme. There were also diseases which could not be easily cured. William Blake felt it his duty to write about it; therefore, he uses the subject of poetry to critique the existing order and call for change.

Social Problems in the Poem London by William Blake

Indeed the poet writes this poem from social as well as political perspectives. In this poem, the poet mentions those problems that were there in the late 18th century. Some prominent social problems that can be found from a bare analysis of the poem “London” by William Blake are:

  1. Poverty: from the very beginning of the poem, the problem of poverty prevails as the major theme of this poem. The poet mentions the word “chartered” streets of London which is an indirect reference to poverty and despair. The first stanza of the poem creates sketches of the faces of different people who are oppressed and misery reflects on their faces.
  2. Prostitution: It was also one of the major social problems of Blake’s time. The poet says that there was no limit to it nor was the administration doing anything to stop it. The poet feels that prostitutes roam in the streets of London and makes the city more impure. He considers it a significant social problem of his time; therefore, he mentions it.
  3. Child Labour: it is not apparent from the poem; however, there are many clues that can be found in the shape of literary devices. However, it is true that the poet talks about labourers but at the end when he says that innocence faces decay, it seems that he mentions these problems in the poem. The phrase “youthful harlot” is mentionable in this regard.
  4. Lack of Freedom: from beginning to end the poem seems like a documentary on the lives of people who are imprisoned not physically but mentally. They are living a life full of stress. There are certain limitations that are imposed on them. The theme of oppression is evident when the poet talks about the social problem of lack of freedom.

Political Problems in the Poem “London” by William Blake

In addition to social problems, there are certain political problems that the poet mentions in this poem which include:

  1. Lack of Representation: people of London city have no free will. None of them can represent their people. They are bound to certain activities. This is suggested by the reference to the “chartered” streets, which implies that the people are regulated and controlled by those in power.
  2. Corruption of Government: the poet highlights moral as well as physical corruption in the city. It is the government that wants people to live a life of misery. Instead of doing something good for them, they are making their life more pathetic. The poet highlights the government’s corruption in the poem “London”.
  3. Religious Hypocrisy: apart from the government, there is religious hypocrisy in the city. “Every blackning Church appalls” is an example that the poet does not hesitate to satirise religious hypocrisy as it was the main problem in Blake’s era. 

Themes of The Poem “London” by William Blake

There are many hidden themes in the poem. It seems like a documentary of Black’s time but it certainly contains many universal themes. An analysis of the major themes of the poem “London” by William Blake are: 

  1. Oppression: Besides being a social problem, it is also the primary theme of this poem. The poet sheds light on the oppressive social and political structures of his era. The people were kept trapped in poverty, prostitution, and despair. The phrase “mind-forged manacles” clears that people were not physically controlled but they were bound mentally. Hence, oppression becomes one of the major themes of the poem “London”.
  2. Misery: from the beginning to end, the poet mentions the miseries of people. He uses all the words that can explain the suffering of people. It is not only one of the major themes but a repeated theme of the poem. The theme is present in all four stanzas. The reference to the “marks of weakness, marks of woe” on people’s faces suggests that they were suffering physically and emotionally.
  3. Corruption: the poet brings the moral and physical corruption of government as well as religious hypocrisy. Neither the government nor the churches are excluded from corruption. The poet uses the technique of satire to highlight this problem. 
  4. Lack of Freedom: the poet creates images of labourers and soldiers to indicate a lack of freedom. They were oppressed; therefore, their choices were limited. They were controlled. The relevant words that the poet uses in the poem are: “chartered” streets and the “mind-forged manacles.”
  5. Cycles of Poverty: one of the main problems on which the poet laments is the problem of poverty. Thus, it is also another subject matter of the poem. It is persistent in every stanza. The “youthful harlot” and the “newborn infant.” are significant words that the poet mentions in order to talk about the problem and theme of poverty.

Symbols used in The Poem “London” by William Blake

In order to convey the themes and criticise society, every author uses some symbols. William Blake also uses symbols in his poems as are there in the poem “London”. The most important symbols of the poem are:

  1. “Chartered” Streets: “chartered” symbolises control. The people are controlled by those who are in power. The writer means to say that the oppression and control have destroyed the freedom and social life of people and they are imprisoned not only physically but also mentally. 
  2. “Marks of Weakness, Marks of Woe”: repetition of the word marks stresses the emotional suffering of the people of London. It also means that the people are weak and they have become victims. 
  3. “Midnight Streets”: first, the poet talks about the streets and then he mentions midnight streets to portray the themes of danger, and vulnerability of women and children.
  4. “Mind-Forged Manacles”: the poet highlights the mental slavery of people. The people may do something to break out of physical slavery but nothing can be done to get rid of mental slavery.
  5. “Harlot” and “Infant”: both these symbols represent the cycles of poverty and despair. The impact can directly be seen in the lives of people. 

Literary Devices used in The Poem “London” by William Blake

Like every poet, William Blake uses many literary devices in the poem “London”. Some of them with examples are: 

  1. Repetition: The poet repeats some words and phrases in order to emphasise their importance. For example, he repeats the word “chartered” in the first two lines of the poem to describe the sense of control and oppression that the people of London experience.
  2. Imagery: imagery enhances the imagination. The poet uses it to give an emotional attachment so that the readers can feel the suffering and misery of the people of London. For example, “youthful harlots” and “newborn infant” are images that the poet uses to portray themes of cycles of poverty and exploitation.
  3. Symbolism: a direct attack on society may not be possible for an author; therefore, symbolism is a technique that he uses to convey several hidden meanings. In this poem, “mind-forged manacles” and “midnight streets” are phrases that have meanings of mental and physical oppression besides their apparent meanings.
  4. Metaphor: William Blake uses the Thames as a metaphor to emphasise the sense of control and regulation that pervaded life in London.
  5. Irony: in order to show the difference between appearance and reality the poet uses this technique. In this poem, the poet finds every face having marks of weakness and woe which creates an ironic sense.

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