The University of Toronto at Scarborough

ENGB02Y: English Literature: Historical Survey (SpringTerm)

Instructor: Melba Cuddy-Keane

William Blake, "London"

- a poem of the city
- city itself as embodiment of suffering, sorrow
- (industrial revolution)
- people have created their own prisons: "mind-forged manacles"
- ambiguities of words; hidden meanings
- meaning twists to take on its opposite; twists of values

stanza 1

- "Charter'd ": means mapped; also refers to granting of charters
- Magna Carta: giving of rights
- means restricting authority, recognizing individual liberty
- but also means granting of monopolies, possession; in effect, takes away rights of others
- streets are not public property
- ownership by a few means poverty of the many

stanza 2

- further doubleness of meaning
- ban: what is not permitted, restriction
- bann: marriage proclamation, to allow marriage
- irony: instead of allowing love, bann restricts and limits it

stanza 3

- reversals of "natural" expectations
- the Church does not care about the poor (the chimney-sweep);
- the government, the monarchy do not care about the lives of the individual soldiers sent to war

stanza 4

- the prostitute, unwed mother, cannot rejoice in her child
- the respectable married couple look down on her
- yet the restrictions of marriage are in part the cause of prostitution
- the hypocrisy of the married man who uses prostitutes; who has created the need for prostitutes
- the harlot curses the respectable polite society and perhaps infects them:
- "blights with plagues"--a reference to venereal disease? a kind of vengeance?
- in the fallen world, energy turns destructive?
- love into death: "Marriage hearse"
- a society no longer bound by mutuality, commonality
- but characterized by inequality, exploitation, alienation

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