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William Blake’s Poem ‘London’ With William Wordsworth’s ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ in 1802

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William Blake and William Wordsworth both lived in the 18th-19th century and both had very different views on the world even though they were both romantic composers and wrote about the same kind of things. The two poets contrast in very different ways about similar things. In these two poems about London they both give very different opinions of what they see around them. William Wordsworth writes about the complexity and power that he sees in his sonnet, whereas William Blake writes about the social problems of people in the poorer areas of London. The poets seem to be direct opposition to each other because one writes on the dirt, disease and decay, the other on the beauty, complexity and power. Both poets use personification, similes and metaphors in their work to interesting effect.

William Blake sees the so-called ‘truth’ about London. He sees the poverty and suffering the people go through and the way they are controlled by invisible rules binding them to the poverty.

“…in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.”

This is a very powerful metaphor to make an example of people who have been weakened and restricted in their mind by the corruption of the government and of capitalism. Blake then come back to this idea of oppression by writing. He mentions bans, showing that certain activities have been outlawed, probably by the wealthy, and they are constantly suffering from these oppressions. However, what’s more is the poet talks about Ming forg’d manacles. Manacles were constrains used in prisons, to hold back and limit the movement of prisoners. These prisoners though, the poor people of London, are not only being constrained by the wealthy, but are also, however, being constrained by themselves and their manacle of their own imagination. They are unable to escape their own slavery, which they have become so accustomed to, due to their own mentality. They are unable to escape from their own, self created, hell. They are oblivious. William Wordsworth however, seems to be a visitor to the city of London and he apparently does not see the so-called ‘truth’ Blake talks of.

“All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.”

This line is telling us that it is the morning and that the ‘truth’ is hidden from view as the machines have not yet started for if they had there would be a steady stream of smoke protruding from the chimneys, polluting the already polluted air. Another line in the poem tells us it is morning.

“And all that mighty heart is lying still!”

Mighty heart is a metaphor for the capital of England as the capital is usually the heart of the country. Lying still tells us that it is the morning and almost everyone is sleeping. William Wordsworth therefore perceives London from a different perspective. He sees a calm and still, and yet powerful atmosphere. Wordsworth sees London in an admiring way and he sees the majesty of it as he is a visitor to London and has had a totally different upbringing.

“I wander thro’ each charter’d street,

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,”

Blake here uses the word ‘charter’d’ to imply bound and dirty areas around the area of the Thames. He says that society has lost its spirituality and imagination and is just an empty shell covered in dirty and decay.

“Every black’ning Church appals;”

This tells us that Blake disapproves of the church and God. He blames God for all the misery and suffering he sees about him every day. Blake sees against the liturgy while Wordsworth seems to be with the church for he associates what he sees with God.

“Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;”

Here William Wordsworth shows that he approves of God and the church and he sees God as being the cause for all the power and beauty he sees in nature and industry. Wordsworth feels so overwhelmed by the calmness of London that he feels the need to call upon God’s name. Wordsworth also associates what he sees with man for he personifies a lot of his writing.

“This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,”

“The river glideth at his own sweet will:”

He uses personification to show that man also helps to control the makeup of the power and beauty that he sees around him. The city is wearing the beauty of the morning that he knows from the mornings he experiences at his home in the Lake District. Also in this line he emphasises the word “City” with a capital letter, which stresses just how important the city actually is.

Blake gives an image of the soldier’s sigh running in blood down the palace walls. Here he is attacking the monarchy and government for condemning young men to death by sending them to fight in foreign wars. He also shows how difficult it is to cope with and live in the streets of London and to survive and make a living enough to support yourself.

“How the youthful Harlot’s curse

Blasts the new born infant’s tear”

This is saying just how difficult it is to live in London at this time. An unfortunate woman who had to resort to prostitution to earn a living for herself has a baby and ‘how the youthful harlot’s curse’ is her cursing that she now has another mouth to feed and she cant afford to do so for she earns just enough for herself to live, let alone a child too. The newborn infant’s tear is just showing that all babies cry when they are just born which shows that they are alive which is why the harlot is curing because the baby is not a stillborn but alive and well.

William Wordsworth is however, oblivious to all the poverty in the streets and the amount commoners suffer under the government’s regime. Wordsworth talks of the scenery, of the buildings and the industry and nature, for he is unaware of society’s poverty.

“Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!”

“Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:”

This means you would have to be ‘dead inside’ if he or she could not appreciate such beauty. The fact that Wordsworth uses the word “majesty” offers a royal sense, a royal beauty, giving us the idea of just how beautiful and magnificent this city actually is. This contrasts well with the disease-ridden city described by Blake.

In conclusion, Blake and Wordsworth have very different writing styles and views on the world. Wordsworth is fixed on nature and industry and power, whereas Blake is attempting to reveal the situation of poverty and suffering in society. The two poets therefore seem to be opposites, but in fact Wordsworth is just blind to the truth that Blake sees and Blake is blind to the truth that Wordsworth sees and therefore I believe that they would not be so against each other if they had just opened their minds to wider perspectives.

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