London Bridge is falling down- sorry wrong poem but same river

Dear readers,

Imagine walking down the streets of London. A city that’s been described to be vibrant and bustling with rich interaction and spectacular sights. Would you see it this way? Well, William Blake doesn’t. Sorry (Blake isn’t sorry). Blake’s poem London is organized in 4 short stanzas consisting of quatrains and an ABAB rhyme that aid in the sights and sounds being described in the poem that is a commentary on society and the government.

Through the figure of a traveler and literary lens, Blake describes wandering through his surrounding setting which is “each chartered street” (1) where he sees faces of passing people that have “marks of weakness, marks of woe.” (4) In establishing this bleak setting of streets that are chartered into systems for order , Blake also introduces the poetic voice that has a sorrowful tone in this face of society’s misery that is displayed by the people’s facial expressions as they walk in these streets. I would like to postulate a question to my beloved readers: With this detailed observance, is it possible society is being described as miserably suffering due to the control as imposed upon them by the power hungry upper class/ government?? Because Blake hints at this control through the “chartered” streets. Someone had to charter them and it most certainly wasn’t the lower class who had no money or power to charter streets in the first place. 

In stanza 3, Blake transitions from sight to sound. Curious, Curious. Who is this “chimney-sweeper” (9) that cries? And why is the church “blackening”(10)? How do these two completely opposite subjects relate? Upon research, you will find that a chimney-sweeper during this time period in London was the lowest of lowest in class as being a chimney-sweeper was a low paying and thankless job. Oh and did I mention a lot of young orphaned children were working as chimney-sweepers and churches were responsible for them? We just love exploitation and abuse. But with this background context, I think the chimney-sweeper and church are directly connected due to class and power. Hence, the chimney-sweeper cries from being forced to perform hard labor and the church blackens for its lack of humanity towards the chimney-sweeper. 

Sincerely, Alucard

2 thoughts on “London Bridge is falling down- sorry wrong poem but same river”

  1. I also found “London” rich with telling juxtaposition. The very title of the poem is crucial in its impact, as any city could have these problems, but London (at the time) was one of the foremost and most powerful cities in the world. Thus, the expectation of the title is juxtaposed with the actual reality/content of the poem. Blake begins with the word “chartered” twice, a word that suggests power and control while the rest of the poem details the pervasive suffering in the city. The strength and naïveté of “chartering” becomes meaningless once reality is revealed.

  2. I agree with your position on the association between the chimney sweepers and the church. Their relationship is quite odd and contrary to what the Bible, for one, says regarding the treatment and honor of children. I also think there could be some sort of connection between the last stanza and your commentary. The last stanza details how men are dying from some type of STD from women walking the streets and are having children from these affairs. Now, I’m not an expert on London’s history despite having been there for some time, but I would like to propose that there might be some connection between these children from wedlock and those that are chimney sweepers cleaning the church. These kids are probably the result of these affairs,a nd the church being the only place at that time that most people would bring there kids to when they wouldn’t or couldn’t take care of them, the exploitation that the church committed might reflect that relationship. While the pentultimate stanza gives the impression that these problems are created by the rich and power–which is inherently true–the speaker notes that the conditions these people are in are of their own accord, based on the last stanza.

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