London by William Blake



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I roam thought commercial streets, near the where the commercial Thames flows, I see in every face marks of feebleness and despair.
I fell in every cry of fear of man and infant, in every voice and ban, the chain created by the mind.
How the scream of the chimney-sweeper’s scare the church covered in smoke and soot; and the unlucky soldier’s sigh flows in the blood down the palace walls.
But above all along the streets at Midnight I hear how the oath of the prostitute dries up the tears of the newborn and infects the marriage hearse.
Rhyme scheme
The poem is divided in four stanzas of for lines. It follows a regular, alternated rhyme scheme: ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH. Maybe the poet wants to block the thought in the poetic structure and wants also to give the idea of oppression of that age.
Rhetorical devices
The poet use a negative semantic field in order to show the dramatic situation of London in that period. In fact he uses strong and sharp words and also terms, that normally haven’t negative meaning, there take on bad aspect.
In this poem there are many run-on line (How the chimney-sweeper’s cry / Every blackening church appals) that have the function of giving fluidity to the poem.
There is some repetition that emphasizes some concepts, like the repetition: “in every”, “cry”, “charter’d”. the last one is used to stress the importance of the economic aspect in London.
Blake also uses inversions, in fact verbs are often placed at the end of the line (like second stanza).
Blake’s poem “London” describes a city where everything has rules. We can see this where Blake tells us of the “chartered street” and the “chartered Thames”. The term “chartered” express a situation of oppression and lack of freedom, in fact the streets where the narrator roam are hired by privileged merchant. In these streets the people are trapped in the prison of society, which is described in the 8th line: “The mind-forged manacles I hear”. This phrase tells us that people were nor free to think, beyond the rules of society and rules of convention. In fact, imaginary chains hold the minds of people down.
In the next stanza, Blake goes on to describe the corruption of the Church of England (in one sense) or the dirtiness of all the buildings including the church, which is blackening (in another sense.
He sets the scene by mentioning the chimneysweeper boys. It obliviously told us that the air of London was not clean, in fact the industrial revolution produced great pollution. The Church is defined “blackening”, this means that it is dark, corrupted. Blake gives us a negative connotation of the Power. In fact in the next line he writes about the 'hapless' or luckless soldier. His sigh runs in blood, signifying death, down Palace walls, meaning the government palace, and whoever lives in it is blamed for his death. Which again, gives a thought of corruption.
In the final stanza, Blake writes about the prostitutes (Harlot), who roam along the streets of London, and how they are cursed with the consequences of their job. The line, “How the youthful Harlot's curse” has two meanings. One meaning could be the curse on the Harlot of catching a sexually transmitted infection. However the line could mean the birth of a child, which itself would be painful and dangerous (because the mother could die). Finally Blake also makes a comment about marriage: it isn’t the beginning of a new life but the end of a life.
Vago per strade commerciali
vicino a dove il Tamigi commerciale scorre
e colgo in ogni volto che incontro
segni di debolezza, segni di dolore.
Nel grido d’ogni uomo
nel pianto di paura d’ogni bimbo,
in ogni voce, in ogni bando,
sento le manette forgiate dalla mente.
Come il grido dello spazzacamino
spaventa ogni chiesa annerita dal fumo;
e il sospiro del soldato sventurato
scorre via nel sangue giù per le mura del palazzo.
Ma soprattutto per le strade a mezzanotte sento
come la bestemmia della giovane prostituta
rinsecchisca le lacrime del bimbo appena nato
e contagi il carro funebre del matrimonio.