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Poem introduction

This polemical poem – a rare instance where polemic and poetry walk hand in hand in perfect unison – is a devastatingly concise and passionate indictment of the London and the times that Blake lived in, which could still apply to our own. The oppressive nature of capitalism, the corrupt institutions of power – the law, church, monarchy, army, the way in which our personal relationships are inescapably bound together and poisoned in a destructive society where even the mind is not free to think, are all powerfully depicted within its sixteen lines. The repetitions, pounding rhythm, the cinematic movement, emblematic figures, bring to life a city, a society from whose ills no one is immune.

London

 

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every black'ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.