Here, you’ll find an analysis of the poem “London” by William Blake, including a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem below:
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Here’s a link to the poem if you want to read it along with the analysis.
I wander through each mapped street, near where the mapped river Thames flows; I notice that every face I meet has signs of weakness and expressions of sadness. In every shout of every man, in every child’s cry of fear, in every voice, in every curse, I hear the oppression of these people’s own minds. How the blackening Church is horrified by the cries of the chimney sweeper, and the sigh of the unfortunate soldier runs in blood down palace walls. But most of all, through the streets at midnight I hear how the curse of the young prostitute blasts the newborn child’s ears, and ruins the marriage hearse with disease.
The speaker uses present tense and first-person narrative voice, starting with the personal pronoun ‘I’ in order to give the impression that he is speaking his thoughts aloud as he walks through the streets of London. It feels as though Blake himself is the speaker, and he uses the poem to voice aloud his socio-political opinions: he is disgusted that Great Britain is such a wealthy and supposedly advanced nation, yet at the same time so many people are living in poverty and forced into professions such as chimney sweeping and prostitution, which ruin their lives. He ultimately holds the view that Britain is a hypocritical nation, pretending to be civilised when in fact it allows its own citizens to suffer in squalor.
THEMES + POSSIBLE ESSAY QUESTIONS
- Institutions vs the individual
- Compare poets’ presentation of power and corruption in ‘London’ and at least one other poem of your choice.
- Compare the ways in which class power is explored in ‘London’ and at least one other poem from your collection.
Single poem questions:
- In what ways does Blake’s poem ‘London’ express his political views?
- Discuss the ways in which ‘London’ explores attitudes to industrialisation and urbanisation.
Thanks for reading! If you find this useful, check out the full analysis of this poem, which includes, but is not limited to:
- Key Quotations
- Language Feature Analysis
- Form and Structure Analysis
- Attitudes + Messages