”London” and ”Composed Upon Westminster Bridge”
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This essay will consider the similarities and differences between the two poems ‘London’ by William Blake and ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ by William Wordsworth. It will focus upon their structures, content and poetic features. Finally, I will come to my own conclusion to which poem is most effective and how it is achieved.
The two poems were written at very different times of the day and also in history, which may be one of the main reasons why there is such a contrast between them. William Blake wrote ‘London’ during the Industrial Revolution when the city was being overcome by the changes that the revolution brought. He was writing at a time when there were many unpleasant things happening in society. The church was being corrupted, chimney sweep were dying whilst working and the streets were being plagued with “the youthful harlot’s curse”. Blake had been born in London and had lived their his whole life. He saw London at every time, causing him to forge the very negative view that he conveys in his poem.
On the other hand, , Wordsworth write his poem ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ before ant of the turmoil of the revolution began . The time of day that the poem was wrote may have also influenced what he wrote about the city. Whereas Blake’s poem was written in the hustle and bustle of the “midnight streets”, Wordsworth wrote during the tranquillity of the morning when everyone was asleep. Wordsworth did not live in London, he was on holiday with his sister and was in complete awe of the “beauty of the morning”.
‘London’ is written in quatrains, with eight syllables per line. The poem has a very apparent meter making it sound very structured when it was read aloud. He writes about a very complicated subject but condenses it into this very rigid shape. This may reflect how he felt about the restrictions that people were under at the time. It is a very effective way of writing as he puts across to the audience how he feels without actually writing it.
Just as Blake’s poem reflects his feelings of the city , Wordsworth’s poem does the same. However, Wordsworth’s structure is very different. His poem is written in iambic pentameter (ten syllable with five stresses in each line) and is also a patriarchal sonnet. This is an Italian love poem and has been used by Wordsworth to express his feelings for the city. He personifies London as a beautiful person, and may have chosen to write this type of poem to highlight this further.
Blake uses many negative words to describe London. These include “blackening”, “cry”, “fear” and “weakness”. These are used by Blake to emphasise the depression that both he and society felt because of what was happening to the city. To contrast this , Wordsworth explains the way he sees and feels about the city by using positive words helping to create a picture of beauty in the mind of the reader. He talks about “The beauty of the morning”, “the smokeless air” and the “splendour” of what he sees. All of these together give the impression of an almost paradise-like city where nothing at all is wrong.
In the first stanza of “London” Blake talks about the “chartered streets” and “chartered Thames”. “chartered” in this case is describing the restrictions and control that every part of the city is under. Society was being suppressed and people had no freedom to do what they wished. Blake disliked the idea of being under a strict routine which no-one could break away from, and all of this being because of the expectations that society had of them. In the poem, the River Thames is also described as being chartered. This shows that it was not just humans that were being restricted, it was nature as well. During the time which Blake wrote his poem, barriers were being built around the river to direct the way that it flowed; this being the reason why it is described as “chartered”. To stress that the restrictions weren’t rare and that they were affecting lots of things he repeats “chartered” in the first two lines. Blake says that “every face I meet…” he sees sadness and depression. It is not just the odd few that are feeling this way, it is everyone.
This emphasises to the reader that the state of society must be very poor in to make every feel in the same sorrowful way. The mention of “marks of weakness” and “marks of woe” are the marks of sadness that the people of London carry with them because of the restrictions that they are under. The second stanza is talking about the way that people are being affected by what is happening in society. Blake uses repetition of the word “every” to show that depression is felt throughout the whole of society. It is used three times in the stanza repetition is most remembered and therefore most effective in groups of three. “every infant’s cry of fear” symbolises that the new generation will have to face the world full of cruelty that has been left for them. Blake even considered marriage as “ban” (a declaration of marriage) as a restriction on society. As soon as someone is married they are under expectations of society to stay together. If a couple want to divorce, they may not want to go through with it because of what people would think of them. All of this causing “mind forged manacles” to be cast upon the people of the city. This is a metaphor for the mind being conditioned as it makes you do what you are expected to.
It indicated that the restrictions in society reach deep into the consciousness of people and that even there minds were not free from them. Blake heavily criticised the way that children were treated by society and the effect that things were having on them. “The chimney sweepers cry” was that of the children that were being forced to work in dangerous and often deadly conditions cleaning chimneys. Even the church was being corrupted and it is described in the poem as “blackening”. This symbolises the fact that the church did nothing to try and stop what was happening to the children. Blake hated the idea of organised religion as he saw this another way of restricting people from what they wanted to believe. “The hapless soldiers sigh” is said to show that soldiers were unhappy fighting for their monarchy as they did not believe in what they were doing it for. The “blood down palace walls” may have two meanings.
The first of that being literal, as protesting soldiers daubed red graffiti on the walls of Buckingham Palace to express that they did not want to fight. This could be described as blood because of it’s colour. Also, it could mean that the monarchy were responsible for sending many men to their needless deaths with the blood being on their hands. In the last stanza Blake talks about “the youthful harlot’s curse”. This is the STDs that the young prostitutes catch from doing their work. Blake knows that this will “Blast the new born infants tear” as the disease will be passed on to the children of these women. In the final line he uses an effective paradox to compare marriage to death. In reality there is no such thing as “a marriage hearse”, yet Blake uses the phrase to emphasise that marriage is just another way that freedom ‘dies’.
Wordsworth’s poem “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” is a direct contrast of “London”. Wordsworth writes about London as if it is a beautiful woman who “fair” and full of “beauty”. However, there is an idea of the city also having masculine properties with the mention of a “mighty heart”. The focus of the poem is the beauty of nature and the feelings that London made him feel in the shirt time that he saw it. The City is personified; it wears “the beauty of the morning” and yet in the same line it is described as paradoxically being ‘bare’. The “garment” that London is wearing is personified as a cloak that will later be removed when people have awoken. By saying “silent, bare,” the sonnet’s pace is slowed down by the use of punctuation, meaning that the reader can take time to create a picture in their mind. The city is “Open unto the fields, and to the sky”, this may seem strange because of the array of buildings that would’ve been blocking his view. At the time of writing the poem the city would’ve seemed much more open to the nature because of the fields that were visible on the south bank of the Thames.
The city’s purity is highlighted by the description of the “smokeless air”; there is no pollution and the factories having began working yet. Wordsworth’s description of the Thames is very different from Blake’s, Wordsworth says that the river is gliding at “his own sweet will” whereas in “London” it was said to be “chartered”. Yet at the time when Blake wrote his poem the walls that were to be built to change the course of the river had not yet been built. The tranquillity of the city is displayed in the poem by the use of the words “calm”, “silent” and “asleep”. This is also shown with the personification of the houses as they are portrayed as being “asleep”, when obviously this is not really possible. He is trying to put the point across that everyone part of the city is still and asleep. Is the poem entirely positive? It may seem like this, but there may be a hidden meaning beneath the words “lie” and “lying”. Wordsworth may be trying to convey that the way that he sees London in the morning is a lie; that everything will change later on in the day when people are walking the streets.
I think that both poems are very effective because of the use of personification and imagery. However, my preferred poem is “London” because of the deep emotions that are clearly expressed by William Blake. The poem conveys many messages in a very small space, making the reader have to think about what Blake is trying to say about the state of the city.