July 17, 2006

TO SEE THE WORLD IN A GRAIN OF SAND: WILLIAM BLAKE'S "LONDON," II



Caption: This man's face shows "marks of weakness, marks of woe."

This is the second post in a series about English poet William Blake's "London." It is an outstanding example of how poets can sometimes get it better than statisticians. This poem was published in Songs of Innocence and of Experience in 1794.

It is a poem about the city in a period of rapid urbanization, industrialization, and international warfare (Blake lived through the Seven Years War, the American and French Revolutions, and the Napoleonic wars). Many rural families were displaced from ancient dwellings as wealthy landlords enclosed the common lands to raise sheep for the growing textile industry.

Casualties included children like the chimney sweeps sold into virtual slavery for all their short lives, soldiers from impoverished families forced to fight in wars for imperial gain (good that that doesn’t happen any more, huh?), and young women like the youthful harlot in the poem who were driven into prostitution.

As it developed, the growing commercial society not only inflicted its violence on nature and the bodies of the dispossessed but within their minds as well:

LONDON

I wandered 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-sweeper's cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

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


Next time: charter’d streets, charter’d Thames, mind forg’ed manacles.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: CHARTER'D

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