July 21, 2006


Caption: Blake's poem points out that innocent young things like these baby peacocks can suffer from the actions of others.

This is the final post in a series about William Blake’s poem “London.” If this is your first visit to Goat Rope, please scroll down to see earlier entries in this series.

The final stanza of “London” shows Blake to be a critic not only of economic exploitation but of oppressive gender relations:

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

He viewed the institution of marriage as it existed in his time as repressive and often based on wealth, status and position more than love. (Consider for example the ruthless financial calculations that take place in most of Jane Austen’s novels.)

Prostitution for Blake was thus not only a matter of desperate plight of many poor women but was the shadow side of an often loveless institution. In this stanza, the youthful Harlot passes on the diseases contracted while plying her trade from the husband to the wife and ultimately to the unborn child.

Blake has an astoundingly modern, even ecological or epidemiological, view of how interconnected people already were over 200 years ago. That insight is even more valid today. We like to take the comfortable view that things that affect one group of people somewhere else will have no effect on us. As the world continues to shrink, this is a delusion we can no longer afford.

In four short stanzas, he probably said more for his time and ours than many others did with volumes.

We need to pay attention to the things we’d rather ignore. That’s at least one take home message from "London." And the take home message from this week’s Goat Rope is this: however you try to make sense of the world, don’t forget the poets!


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