William Blake: London

A poem of anger at poverty and exploitation, written in 1792. An anger still needed across the world:

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man.
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every black’ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new born Infant’s tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Blake’s poem on England’s capital city, written in 1792, is a devastating portrait of a society in which all souls and bodies are trapped, exploited and infected.

These sixteen lines do far more than describe the city in which William Blake lived for most of his life. The poem is a devastating and concise political analysis, delivered with passionate anger, revealing the complex connections between patterns of ownership and the ruling ideology, the way all human relations are inescapably bound together within a single destructive society.  Few later poets, except perhaps Brecht, have managed anything like it for condensed power.

Simon Korner

21st Century Socialism, January 8th 2008.

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