”London” by William Blake and ”Composed on Westminster Bridge” by William Wordsworth
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Blake’s poem ‘London’ and Wordsworth’s poem ‘Composed on Westminster Bridge’ at first glance present London in contrary ways. Figuratively, Blake’s London resembles the dark depths of an underground chamber that is isolated from the beauty of nature and instead is claustrophobically filled with Blake’s clever metaphor: “mind forged manacles”, which indicates the restraint and slavery of the poor. Wordsworth however has a much brighter view of London; he takes you to the top of Westminster Bridge, one of the few bridges in that day that acted as a crossing of the Thames. From here Wordsworth watches as the city wears the sunlight ‘like a garment’ and tells us it as nothing short of majestic beauty. In Blake’s poem ‘majestic beauty’ is replaced by the cries of man and infant, chartered streets and blights of plagues.
Little can be said to warmly describe the city of London when attempting to take from Blake’s poem. The message from his poem is clear: London is no more than a hollow to contain those hapless, destitute inhabitants of London, confined to the limits of a poor mans life. And as for the British monarchy, Blake makes a subtly bitter but undeniably truthful accusation. ‘And the hapless soldiers sigh runs in blood down palace walls’; here I think we can presume that the word ‘palace’ represents the monarchy but also the wealthy. The ‘hapless soldier’ is a clear representation of the soldiers fighting and dying for the monarchy, but also the poor. Blake sees the poor as figurative soldiers; fighting endlessly to rise above poverty and endure the gap between rich and poor. Blake accusation indicates that he is blaming the monarchy and the wealthy sector for the isolation and poverty of the poor. Blake says that whilst ‘wandering’, with no direction, ‘through chartered streets and mark in every face I meet marks of weakness marks of woe’. The repetition of the word ‘mark’ by Blake catches our attention and has us understand that he does not see weakness but weakness itself is a permanent mark etched into the creases of their skin. As Blake grew up in London and therefore a Londoner himself, his perspective of London can be trusted a lot more. In other words, he knows what he’s talking about.
The overall language of Blake’s poem is cleverly crafted into iambic tetrameter; this forces a fitted rhythm into the lines and has the accomplice of an unstressed/stressed rhythm. In the third of four stanzas the iambic rhythm falters slightly as 3 of the four lines have seven syllables instead of eight. Blake has deliberately done this to draw our attention to these lines. The third line: ‘And the hapless Soldiers sigh’ is completely irregular to the iambic pattern. The words ‘soldiers sigh’ are also pyrrhic as they are a set of two successive unstressed syllables. This proves the significance of the lines and the irregular rhyme at this point also subtly draws the readers attention to the lines. My estimate here is that Blake is using these lines to hint his opinions to the French revolutions which he passionately disagreed with. As a protestant free thinker, Blake sees the British soldiers as men who have been sentenced to an unjust, politically infused, pointless death all for the protection of the monarchy. Or as Blake puts it, the blood of soldiers runs down the palace walls, figuratively need I say. Implying that the death of the soldiers is all for the protection of the monarchy, who therefore bear the soldiers blood on their hands.
Wordsworth however has a contrary view to the French revolution, as he does to every other political opinion Blake appears to have. His poem, Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 reflects this. Standing on Westminster Bridge, Wordsworth is at the political heart of London, looking east from Parliament and towards the City. Wordsworth’s poem is set into the style of an Italian sonnet as opposed to using a Shakespearian style of 4,4,4,2 which would not fit his ideas into its structure. The language he uses in ‘Composed Upon’ is also Wordsworth’s way of showing his Cambridge education in his talented linguistic manner. The date, also part of the title, was oddly added by Wordsworth, possibly as an afterthought, to give a time and a place to the event that he witnessed. The language he uses is much exaggerated in some areas and sometimes gives the impression that what he is describing is in fact not as wonderful as he tells it to be.
An example of such hyperbole is the line ‘the Earth has nothing to show more fair’; could this really be this true opinion? Wordsworth worshiped the beauty of the Lake District so to me it seems unlikely that the sight of this one majestically beautiful morning could override his adoration towards an entirely different scene. Despite this, Wordsworth’s poem is undeniably a more beautiful piece of writing for the eye as it creates wonderful imagery that is more aesthetically pleasing to those who prefer to ignore reality. Wordsworth also in ‘Composed upon Westminster’ explains the beauty of intertwining nature and man, and their illumination of each other; ‘this city now doth like a garment wear the beauty of the morning’, an attractive example of personification.
Wordsworth’s final lines shows he’s pantheist as they are written almost as if in prayer: ‘Dear God’, he says almost in shock of what lies before him, ‘the very houses seem asleep; and all that mighty heart is lying still’. To capture our attention to ‘Dear God’, both words are stresses, an example of spondaic language. The ‘mighty heart’ can mean the empire. However could also represents the working, living and beating city of London, seen by Wordsworth as infested with human life, and when nobody is there to disrupt natures silence, the mighty heart simply lays still as it did on the morning of the 3rd of September 1802.
Conclusively, I hear both poems as speaking from different perspectives however both poets would undoubtedly understand each other through their use of the English language. Both poets wrote of their own versions of London, Blake’s from the view of the poor people in London, showing the reality of what should not be ignored. Wordsworth who told the tale of London’s morning as it appeared from one of the city’s most famous landmarks, looking at one of the best views London had to offer, or in other words, from the eyes of the wealthy. Strangely the poems fit. Blake tells from the ground level and low status of the poor and Wordsworth, from a bridge high above the sleeping houses and quite literally higher than the status of those within them. It therefore seems apparent that I should state that both poets were telling of the same city, however just from different locations, and therefore were simply stating what they witnessed. However, their backgrounds, opinions and motives are what determined the nature of the words that they crafted into verses of their own. When I read the poems I saw the London that both poets were telling of.
However I also saw the characters of the artists who wove them. Either poet could be the man to jump the gap or the man to bridge the gap, or the man who will walk straight under an arch instead of the man who would sit and draw it. Which ever you choose for Blake and Wordsworth to be it depends on your perspective. My perspective has been formed as a result of understanding both poems in their own nature and I believe that either Blake or Wordsworth could be the one to walk under an arch instead of sitting and drawing it, it just depends on your perspective of their perspective.
Whether you see London as a mighty beating heart or just dark and dismal chartered streets, London will always be seen differently if looked at from a different eye, as told by Blake and Wordsworth. But I prefer not to ignore what shouldn’t be so my preference is undeniably Blake’s poem. Both poets witnessed something, but Blake’s was much more important. He saw the poor people of London, has caught their eyes an read the story behind every chartered street. He was a wealthy educated man that wove a poem to express the sadness and desperation of the people too uneducated to even write their own name. He chose to speak the truth of what was happening everyday instead of a pretty sunrise. Blake’s poem is an undeniably more beautiful poem when you understand its nature and that his words still speak truth to this day.