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London during the Industrial Revolution

Different Impressions by William Blake and William Wordsworth

Hausarbeit 2008 9 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Two very different Impressions of London
2.1 “London“ by William Blake
2.2 “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” by William Wordsworth

3. Comparison of the two poems with reference to the documented living conditions

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

With the invention of the steam engine by James Watt[1], a new area began in Britain. First factories opened, and the people from the country moved to the cities to find work there. More great inventions were made. Now more and more products could be produced within shorter time. Originally, all these machines were created to facilitate the work for the people, to make their lifes easier. But the living standards did not get better for all people. One can read in many history books about dates of the industrial revolution, and about the names of the inventors. When we want to get to know something about the social life in London at about 1800, we need to look for books which document the living conditions of the people. These documents give an authetic image of the life of the ordinary people in the city. When reading the two poems London by William Blake and Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 by William Wordsworth it becomes clear that the impressions the poets got of the city are very different. What did London really look like at the beginning of the nineteenth century? Why did these poets see it so differently? This can be shown by analysing the two poems, and comparing them to eachother with reference to the documented real living conditions at that time.

2. Two very different Impressions of London

2.1 “London“ by William Blake

The poem “London” by William Blake was published in Songs of Experience in 1794.[2] It consists of four stanzas with four lines each, and has an alternate rhyme. The speaker of this poem, who is the subject of most of the sentences, goes for a walk through the streets and describes what he or she sees and hears.

In the poem iambic and trochaic tetrameter are mixed. It includes a lot of stylistic devices. The first one is a repetition of the adjective “charter’d”[3] used to describe the streets and the Thames. This is an indication of the private ownership of parts of the city, which formerly belonged to all people. In the next lines, ”And mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe”(3,4) the word “mark” is used in different word classes to emphasize that the lyrical subject sees these “marks”, and refers from them to the people’s health and feelings. Moreover, “face” is used as a synecdoche for people. These lines show that the inhabitants of London are in a bad emotional and physical condition.

The first three lines of the second stanza begin with the anaphora “in every”(5,6,7). It generalizes the suffering of all people. Such generalizations often happen in this poem, because the words “every” and “each” are repeated several times. It gives the impression that everyone, without exception, is suffering from a horrible life. This is exaggerated, because actually there were some rich people too, but the lyrical subject only describes what supports his point of view. The metaphor “mind-forg’d manacles”(8) in the last line of the second stanza expresses, that all the oppression and pain of the people are actually created by themselves and their society. Besides, it seems paradox that the lyrical subject can hear the mind-forg’d manacles, because if they only exist in the people’s minds they cannot create audible sounds.

In the second line of the third stanza, it says “every blackning church appalls.”(10) This process of turning black can refer to the facades of the church buildings which turn dark, because of the pollution and the exhaust fumes of the factories. When “church”(10) is seen as a metonymy for clergy, it blackens because the clergy does not help the suffering people[4], and for the church as institution, which permitted that children were sold to chimney sweepers to work for them.[5] Moreover, it is said, that the “church appalls.”(10) This is a personification. In conjuction with “blackning”(10) it becomes an antithesis, which shows the contradictory role of the church during the industrial revolution. For example, they even used little boys to clean the chimneys of the churches, although they should protect children and care for better social conditions.[6] After that it is stated, that “the hapless Soldiers sigh / Runs like blood down Palace walls.”(11,12) This personification shows that the pain of the soldiers is not even recognized be the monarchy, because they live behind walls, separated from the ordinary people. Moreover, in this stanza there is an acronym. The first letters of the lines create the word “HEAR”. This strengthens that the lyrical subject describes the city by hearing. More examples for this are the use of the words “cry”(5,6), “voice”(7),“ban”(7), “sigh”(11) and “curse”(14) in the poem.

In the last stanza, there is the metaphor “the youthful Harlots curse / Blasts the new-born Infants tear.”(14,15) It might mean that a harlot is shouting at a baby, because it is crying or because she did not want it. But “Harlots curse”(14) could also be understood as an metonymy for the illnesses, which were transmitted by the prostitutes.


[1] Walther Göbel. Abiturwissen Industrielle Revolution und Soziale Frage (Stuttgart; München; Düsseldorf; Leipzig: Klett, 1997) 33.

[2] Victor Paananen. William Blake (Michigan: Twayne Publishers, 1977) 74, 80.

[3] William Blake.“London“William Blake zwischen Feuer und Feuer; Poetische Werke; Zweisprachige Ausgabe (München: Deutschen Taschenbuch Verlag, 1996) 100;102

All line reference within this chapter refer to this edition.

[4] Paananen, Victor. William Blake (Michigan: Twayne Publishers, 1977) 81.

[5] Paananen, Victor. William Blake (Michigan: Twayne Publishers, 1977) 81.

[6] William Ferber. The Poetry of William Blake (London: Penguin Books, 1991) 48.


ISBN (eBook)
399 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena – Anglistik/Amerikanistik
William Blake William Wordsworth London Industrial Revolution Poetry Composed Upon Westminster Bridge



Titel: London during the Industrial Revolution