Comparison and contrast between Blake and Wordsworth’s views
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Poetry was an outsider to the cold, efficient, emotionless environment of the Industrial Revolution. Romantics of all arts criticized the changing ways of life and idealized the pre-industrial revolution era. London was the haven to this revolution, and the hell to all poetry. William Wordsworth and William Blake both denounced London’s new environment with their poems “London, 1802” and “London” respectively. Both authors were against this transformation of the city because it destroyed all beauty and happiness, both of which they were very fond of. But, their writings went about different ways of showing their feelings of dissent towards the mechanical lifestyle of London. In both poems, Blake and Wordsworth shared the idea that London was corrupted through the ‘progress’ brought on by modernization and more specifically, the industrial revolution. Although their ideas are similar, their means of conveying their ideas are not. Blake portrays his hatred of the situation of London by looking at the bleak modern times, while Wordsworth did so by looking to the past and how it was superior to the present. Also, Wordsworth’s use of a more visual representation of the London lifestyle contrasts with Blake’s more auditory descriptions. Both of these authors had different styles, but one thing was certain in their writings, London was a despicable place.
London’s condition in the early 19th century was no better than that of an impoverished land. The Industrial Revolution swept England by storm, and the upper classes were reaping the benefits while the lower classes suffered. London, it appeared, had lost all its values, morals, and emotion to the coldness of factory life and the selfishness of greed. Basically, London had been corrupted by capitalism, modernization, and the industrial revolution. Wordsworth depicts this loss of innocence very clearly in his poem. He uses reference to past beauty and happiness to convey the message of corruption in the modern period. London 1802 contains many of these references such as his line in the poem that tells of the pure and happy England and how it was rejected by modern times, “The heroic wealth of hall and bower have forfeited their ancient English dower of inward happiness. We are selfish men”(l 5-6)The present London had given up its greatness to a cold machine that took over all vitality of life that had existed in old days of glory. The new London not only lost its innocence, but it lost its happiness.
People of London were miserable during this time. The working class was being exploited by the higher classes and people poured in from all over Europe seeking opportunity. This created a cesspool of poor, urban class people who were miserable with their working conditions. Blake also saw this sorrow throughout the streets, and painted a picture of it with his line, “And mark in every face I meet; marks of weakness, marks of woe”(l 3-4) Blake’s use of repetition of the word marks adds drama to the melancholy poem. He shows that everybody in London is miserable, creating an aura of grief. His portrayal of this dejected population only furthers the view that London is a wasteland, and her people were its refuse.
Although the poems both convey a message of sadness for their beloved London, the authors go in two very different directions to do so. Wordsworth speaks of a past London, in which everything was better. Its citizens were living in better conditions, there were no factories to bring pollution, and there was no ambience noise from the nonstop machinery. By speaking of this merrier past, his poem seems lighter and happier since he speaks of more cheerful times. By not telling of the dark images conveyed during the present London, Wordsworth does not paint a picture of sadness in the viewer’s mind. Wordsworth uses John Milton as a metaphor to represent the old joyful London. Throughout his poem, Wordsworth compliments Milton to praise the pre-Revolutionary London. Wordworth describes milton as a man of , “cheerful godliness”(l 13). A man of happiness who revered God. This was also Wordsworth’s idea of the former London, where its people were happy with their lives and their jobs, and they followed the word of God.
He perceived this London as a pure uncorrupted land. This is the complete opposite of the modern London he lived in now where people were miserable and did not revere the teachings of purity or God. Blake’s poem contrasts greatly with the more upbeat mood of Wordsworth. Blake’s point of view in his poem is the sorrow encountered in modern day London which is the polar opposite of that of Wordsworth. Blake looks towards the present situation of grief, and his poems reflect that sentiment. The despair grows apparent when he talks of the loss of innocence in London. He speaks of the “Youthful Harlot’s curse”(l 14) corrupting the “new born Infant’s tear”(l 15). The feeling he depicts is one of depression. It shows how there is no happiness in London and the future is being destroyed. He describes the toll of the slum like on humanity, which is neither happy nor gives any hope for the future. The poem is much darker and it is apparent when compared to the more free-spirited poem of William Wordsworth.
Another enormous difference that distinguishes the authors is their different ways to grasp the reader’s attention and emotion. Both Blake and Wordsworth use heavy imagery, but they describe this imagery using different senses. Blake’s poem fills the readers ears with the cries of many, while Wordsworth paints a picture using visual descriptions. Wordsworth’s more visual poem helps to convey the image of happiness of the days before. The reader can see the cheerful innocence of the old London and picture its contrast with the industrial ravaged modern London. He does this best in the beginning of the poem when he is describing London to Milton, “England hath need of thee: she is a fen of stagnant waters”(l 2-3). Wordsworth literally describes England as a swamp of still unmoving waters. His sophisticated grasp of the English language portrays an image of a land rotting away, which is meant to be the intellect, courage, and purity of the people. Wordsworth explains the degradation of human spirit with his metaphor of an idle cesspool, his idea of the citizens of London. This image provides us with a disturbed feeling, but nothing more.
There is no fear or terror portrayed as Blake does. Blake’s use of hearing only makes one feel blind to the surroundings, which creates a feeling of darkness and despair. This makes the reader truly feel like a citizen of London; blind to life, confused, and scared. His poem uses this feeling of darkness to its full effect and has his readers pitying the morose London atmosphere. They know what a citizen of the harsh London life feels and through this, are able to express a true sentiment of empathy for these poor people. His aural gloom becomes most apparent when he is speaking of the cries of the people on lines five through eight, “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.” Blake’s audile description is grief to begin with, but in his use of this ‘blind description’ he leaves the reader to use their imagination to picture the city. The use of a reader’s imagination helps to convey an image that writing cannot do. Words can never fully describe the unhappiness in modern London, but one’s mind has no such limits. Blake is a literary genius in being able to use this effect to his advantage to create an utterly rueful feeling compared to Wordsworth’s more conventional approach to imagery.
The Industrial Revolution was an important step in the modernization of the world, and London was the center of it. To be a leader in such a dangerous step forward, there were sacrifices and mistakes to be made. These sacrifices and mistakes led to an end of innocence for the grand city. People were worked tirelessly, with no regard for their own welfare. A state of competition was established with this new capitalist reform of the city, and people left their morals behind to be part of it. To romantic artists of all sorts, this end of innocence was a death of culture and life. They emphasized on the more glorious epoch, where people were trusted and loved. Blake and Wordsworth show this death with their profound words and their sorrowful depictions of the loss of happiness in London. Their differences in writing styles only further the image of London in its dejected state and the loss of corruption brought on by the inevitable force of modernization. Blake and Wordsworth were both soldiers armed with their pens in the march against the tyranny of corruption.