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William Blake Questions (London)

Themes and issues, attitudes and values

1.) How does William Blake present London? What themes and issues does he explore
in relation to the city? What do his attitudes to these seem to be? What philosophical
values underpin his thinking?
Blake presents London as a gloomy scene of decadence. He puts emphasis on the
negative aspects of the city, ("Marks of weakness, marks of woe") and isn't prone to
unveil any positivity because there isn't an positivity from Blake's perspective to be
portrayed. The presentation of London is of a city whose dark underbelly reigns
supreme, with references to harlots and the prodigal chimney sweeps whose youthful
innocence has been tainted with the city's imbalanced see-saw of social deprivation.
The philosophical value that children should not be forced into such hardship backs-up
his attitude towards the city and the cruelty which takes place therein.
1.) What patterns of imagery do you notice? What significance do these have?
One immediate pattern that you notice is the negative imagery that's linked with the city,
firstly in 'marks of weakness, marks of woe' and secondly in the phrase 'mind forg'd
manacles I hear'. Though there are more examples of the imagery pattern, these two
seem to be prime examples of Blake's repeated pattern of negative imagery that do
indeed resound throughout the poem's entireity.
2.) One can't help but notice the repetition in this poem. What is it doing?
The repetition is firmly pressing the images into your head. The repeated usage of the
term 'in every...' in the second stanza with a negative phrase following the term allows
you to understand the message of a downtrodden city with more clarity.
3.) Which words do you find the most striking? Why? Explore their connotations and
The words which I immediately find to be striking are 'weakness', 'hapless' and
'plagues', each of which can be related to London's situation in Blake's day. Disease
was rife, and the 'weakness and haplessness' can be related to the unfortunate youth
who are forced into harlotry and excruciating labour due to extreme poverty and lack of
4.) What is significant about the nature of the words? Are they complex of simple,
abstract or concrete? What about their syllabic length? Their degree of formality?

The words, though not complex, are used in tandem with one another in order to cast
forth the imagery and message. Syllabic length is average for Blake's works, and the
writing is fairly high on formality scale. There are no colloquialisms, and nothing which
could insinuate that the words are of informal nature.
5.) What aspects of the 18th century might be symbolised by the chimney sweeper, the
harlot, and the soldier? Think about the age, gender, class and role of these individuals.
18th century society was reliant upon people undergoing the daily grind to evade
extreme poverty for a temporary amount of time. The chimney sweeps would've been
under twelve years of age and male. Harlots could've been anything from twelve years
old and female, whereas the soldiers would've been male of any age above ten.
6.) What significance might there be in the choice of title and the repeated reference to
the river Thames? Consider what role in the world the city had in the 18th century.
In the 18th century, London was among, if not the biggest city in the world. Though this
is a grandiose title, the amount of residents comes at the price of poverty and social
segregation, the upper-classes enjoying a great degree of space while those oppressed
are collectively placed in the innercity. The choice of title is simply a reflection of the
importance of London and the repetition of the Thames can only be a reference to its
former repugnant stench and disease that it once housed, reflective of London's
7.) Consider the aural impact of the poem. How are alliteration, assonance, and the
sounds of words utilised by Blake? What impact do they have on the sound and
The rhythmic feel of the second stanza is brought about by the fact that the words are of
few syllables and short length. Words such as 'cry', 'fear', 'man' and 'ban' are
resemblant of this flowing rhythm. These short-syllabic words show alliteration in the
repetition of sound, and the rhyming terms show assonance in the similar sounding
word endings.
1.) Line 8 is the centre of a 16 line poem. How significant is this to an appreciation of
Blake's poem?
2.) What relationship do the first seven lines have to the eighth? How do the following
eight develop its ideas? How does this structure influence the impact of meaning of the
The manacles mentioned in line 8 could refer to the final 8 lines in the sense that

society is constricted to the point in which desperate measures are a necessity in order
for survival in the harsh city, taking into account that manacles are perhaps symbolic of
the constrained living conditions.
1.) Consider the persona and the situation. Some critics have suggested that the
detachment, objectivity and omniscience of the persona are so extreme that the poem's
voice must be that of a ghost. To what extent do you agree? Does this perspective
make any difference to your understanding of the poem's meaning?
Though the suggestion that the poem's voice is of a ghost is an interesting theory, it
seems unlikely. A physical manifestation is required to 'wander' (as noted in line 1) and
the recognition of the suffering that surrounds the persona indicates a certain degree of
humanity through caring instead of a nonchalance that a typically portrayed ghost might
exhibit. The omniscience of the persona could suggest that the main persona is of
someone who is experienced and knowledgeable in their understanding of London and
how it operates, as opposed to someone who sees all activity through some kind of
spectral visage.
2.) Consider the poetic form. What patterns of rhyme and rhythm does Blake use? How
do these relate to the poem's mood(s) and/or ideas?
As mentioned in an answer to a previous question, the rhythm in the second stanza
contrasts the rest of the poem through its snappy words and fast-paced alliteration. The
rest of the stanzas chug along with the longer words and phrases such as 'midnight',
'youthful', 'chartered' and 'blackning'.