Comparison Between Wordsworth’s Poem, “Daffodils” and Blake’s Poem, “London”
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Although both Blake and Wordsworth are romantic poets, their subject matters and style of poetry differ greatly. Blake is often critical, ironic and symbolic about matters such as city life and politics, whereas Wordsworth is explicit and very descriptive – frequently using figurative devices in his works. Blake’s use of language is stark and bleak, while Wordsworth’s is rich and involves senses. Blake’s themes are also more to do with society, but Wordsworth’s are based around nature and spiritual reflection. These differences are probably partly due to Blake’s living in London, and Wordsworth’s living in the countryside – as seen in the different settings of their poems.
Blake writes implicitly in “London” – making it clear that he is not fond of the city; but not once openly stating his own personal opinion of it. He does this by describing what he sees with irony and symbolism. One example is when Blake talks about the Church:
“How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appalls”
This symbolises how the Church should be appalled by the cries of poor children (symbolised by the Chimney-sweepers), but does nothing to prevent the cruelty to children due to its corruption. He is also critical of the monarchy and claims that it is responsible for soldiers’ deaths: “the hapless soldier’s sigh Runs in blood down palace walls”. The ironic description of the soldiers as “hapless” implies that not only is the palace responsible for their deaths, but also that their deaths are futile – further displaying his disapproval of the monarchy. Blake then addresses problems with bringing up children into city life: “How the youthful Harlot’s curse Blasts the new born Infant’s tear” – symbolising how many children are unwanted by their “harlot” mothers and are brought up into broken families. He follows on with how marriage has become pointless: “And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse” – using the ironic oxymoron “marriage hearse” to illustrate this. The use of emphatic words such as “blasts” and “blights” and the alliteration of these two words also emphasise his disgust of this aspect of society.
Wordsworth on the other hand is more involved and explicit and uses personification rather than symbolism to put forward his ideas. There is evidence of personification in every stanza and in three out of the four stanzas, the daffodils are illustrated as dancing: e.g. “Tossing their heads in sprightly dance”. This imagery is used to paint a picture of the daffodils in the reader’s mind, and conveys the daffodils’ energy. The entire poem is based on describing the daffodils and his experience rather than offering social commentary. “Daffodils” is very similar to “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” in these aspects as they are both highly descriptive and use imagery and figurative language.
Blake uses stark, simple language that induces a sense of misery – without using imagery, but using symbolism in every stanza instead – such as “mind-forg’d manacles” to represent the social barriers and oppression of society. The symbolism used is fairly complex – meaning that the reader has to think about what is written and reflect on what the poet is trying to indicate. Blake often achieves this complexity by using unexpected adjectives to describe nouns: “charter’d Thames”, “mind-forg’d manacles”, “black’ning Church” and “hapless Soldier”. He is also emphatic in his language – especially in the second stanza where he repeats the phrase “In every…” four times to show how everyone is held together by the chains of city life. This simple but effective poetry epitomises Blake’s use of English.
Wordsworth, however, uses words like “float” and “twinkle” to help create an image – playing on the sense of sight. He compares the daffodils with the stars and the sea – saying that the daffodils “Out-did the sparkling waves in glee” and to demonstrate their vastness. He also describes the flowers as “stretched in never-ending line” to illustrate the overwhelming beauty of the sight. Wordsworth then describes them as “a jocund company” to further express his joy. This rich usage of language involves the reader more in the poem – as if Wordsworth is trying to share his experience with each reader.
Blake focuses his poem around social injustice and oppressive urban life. Not only is he critical of the institutions of the Church, monarchy and marriage, he also abuses the way that London is run – describing the streets and river as “charter’d”. This once again relates to oppression – he thinks London is over-ordered. He states how he sees “Marks of weakness, marks of woe” in every face he sees – showing that he thinks everybody is affected negatively by the daily grind of the city, and describes the soldiers as “hapless” – as if they have no choice but to fight and die.
Wordsworth’s themes are very different and are to do with nature and spiritual reflection. He describes the suddenness with which he came across the “host, of golden daffodils” in the first stanza:
“When all at once I saw a crowd”
and refers back to this in the final stanza – stating that “They flash upon that inward eye” – meaning by this that they are an inspiration to him. He highlights the effect that the daffodils had on him by using repetition – repeating how he “gazed – and gazed” at the sight, and expresses again his own spiritual gain from his experience of the daffodils emphasising, “What wealth the show to me had brought”.
Blake’s “London” effectively uses simple, stark language and symbolism to make the poem’s mood negative and despondent. Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” richly talks of the beauty of nature – explicitly using similes and personification helping to make the mood of the poem celebratory and joyful. Although both these poems have very regular rhythms and rhyme schemes, the use of these in each poem is drastically different. In “London”, Blake uses it to bring out the monotonous oppression of the city. Wordsworth uses it to make the poem lively and bright.
Wordsworth’s poem “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” highlights these differences in style. In this poem, Wordsworth is writing about London, but instead of focussing on social injustice (like Blake), he uses an irregular rhythm and rhyme scheme with lots of playing on the senses and some onomatopoeic alliteration, to give the poem an eeriness which conveys the city’s beauty: “Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie”. This generates a hushed sound when read aloud – mirroring the hush of the early morning which he is describing. The contrast of each poet’s language is also displayed when in this same poem, Wordsworth describes how “The river glideth his own sweet will”, while in “London” Blake talks of “Near where the charter’d Thames does flow”.
Although I find Wordsworth’s poem more pleasant to read aloud than Blake’s, I connect more with Blake’s poem than Wordsworth’s due to the profound symbolism or irony in almost every line. I personally prefer “London” to “Daffodils” because I feel Blake makes the readers think more about the meaning of his poetry. Unlike Wordsworth, he does not need rich, figurative language to make his poems deep and complex – they already are.