Dialectics of Industrialization in William Blake’s “London’s”
This paper deals with the innumerable impacts of industrialization in the human world between the peasant and proletarian communities in London. The poem represents the misery of the Industrial Revolution which creates the gap of the human strong connection to the land due to the violence, disorder, chaos, and pollution with the emergence of science and technology. The Industrial Revolution has totally changed the lives of the people who live through the condition of the Industrial Revolution; their life has become more mechanized. People are being gathered in crowded cities exploiting nature through different mediums. This poem “London”, from his work “Songs of Experience”, describes the woes of the Industrial Revolution and breaking of the common man’s ties to the land, which is brought upon him.
Though Romanticism talks about the positive aspects of nature hiding the evils, Blake rejects the common, glorifying view of London and replaces it with his idea of truth. Romanticism is quite ambiguous in its stand regarding the enlightenment rationality. Robert argues that “It was both influenced by and reacted against… Enlightenment, which advocated the use of reason to improve society and the human condition” (220). With its agenda of progress is the key of Marxism that indicates Industrialization which is, backed up by slavery, was at the peak during the Romantic period. London is nothing more but a city strapped by a harsh economic situation where Royalty and other venues of power have allowed morality and goodness to deteriorate so that suffering and poverty are all that exist. There is the use of three distinct metaphors; “mind-forg’d manacles”, “blackening Church”, and “Marriage hearse”, that Blake conveys the idea of a city that suffers from physical and psychological depression, social oppression, and an unraveling moral society. According to William Richey the phrase “mind-forg’d manacles” has two contributors, the oppressors and the victims (1). Both contributors help set and reinforce the psychological distress and sense of entrapment each citizen of “London” suffers from.
Blake’s “London” is a lyrical ballad which expresses the tension, sounds, and meanings of a degenerate city. As Lynn White. Jr has said, “Formerly man had been part of nature; now he was the exploiter of nature”. The people of London are described as being weak and full of woe as marks on their faces that reveal the impact of Industrialisation influenced by the French Revolution. There is the repetition of the word “marks” which stresses the despair and tiredness that they seem to be going through because of their oppressed way of life. Being a mystical person himself, Blake uses the expression “marks of woe” which refers to the melancholy of English people brought by the destruction to nature and violence among human beings due to the scientific technology and Industrialization. Due to this, religions are also having been affected by the emergence of new cultures in modernism. In this poem as Blake walks past, he can see the weakness and misery marked on the faces of the passers due to their helplessness as not being able to bring any changes in their destiny. It seems that when he says “marks of woe” he means that nothing is really what they appear to be outside but if you perceive heartily then you will notice the reality of that subject.
In fact, distress and disease and a sense of isolation and fragmentation are key issues to build around. Everywhere we see and hear, not whole and healthy humanity but part of people in anguish, pain fear and anger (‘in every face …Marks of weakness, marks of woe’, ‘cry of fear’, ‘ban’, ‘Soldier’s sigh’, ‘Harlot’s curse’, ‘Infant’s tear’). These are, so to speak, the ‘street cries’ of London is a mean and pained rather than cheerily commercial vein. Meanwhile, the fact that the distress is seemingly universal (‘In every cry of every Man’; ‘every’ is used six times) which serves to underscore the fact that this is the suffering yet far from the silent majority; the menial, dependent and vulnerable here giving voice to their pains. Conversely, by strong implication, there are others, a powerful minority, who physically absent yet whose influence pervades the whole scene: those protected by the charter, those whose chimneys are swept, and those who can afford to use prostitutes. In this social respect, there is deep social divide at the heart of the poem’s political vision; and though it may not be expressly ‘class conscious’, in a later nineteenth-century sense, it is latently, grumblingly ‘revolutionary’ in a late eighteenth-century sense. It burns with the barely extinguished rage of French Revolution and hints darkly at the palpable, painful conditions for just such another revolution. Another fifty odd years would see such feelings concentrated in the rallying call of The Communist Manifesto (1848): ‘Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains’.
Taking another line, expressly recall the word ‘I’ of the poem, who sees all thing Past, Present and Future’. This is, therefore, a prophetic vision of things as they will or might be as well as a poetic version of things. It carries a sense of threat as well as a warning. Depending upon ones particular social situation and political orientation , this could be a good point to stress the continuing relevance of a more or less local and immediate vision of urban decay and deprivation or alternatively, to broaden focus and extend the frame to the global imbalances and iniquities of ‘rich’, ‘developed’ nations and ‘poor’, ‘under-developed/developing’ nations. Either, locally or globally, the distressing spectacles and haunting specters of the displaced and dispossessed, child labor, prostitution and death by war and disease are still nowadays. Such perspectives could be seen projected along with a variety of lines in – New Historicist, Cultural Materialist, Sexual Political, Postmodern and Postcolonial make arguments identified. They might also be used as case studies to focus the very different ways in which Blake’s radical vision has been ignored, marginalized, cunningly patronized or rapturously celebrated before and since the late 1960s, when he and his illustrations were introduced to a modern mass readership courtesy of contemporary print technology as well as changes in aesthetic sensibility and political sympathy. These all can be seen in the Romantic period as it is features.
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Blake’s “London” can also be interpreted from the aspect of every British people: ‘The charter’d Themes’, ‘mind – forg’d manacles’, ‘the youthful Harlot’s curse’, ‘the Marriage Hearse’ which replies to the questions of who, what, when, where, how and why of the poem. This poem as text and context produces and processes which has been realized through the miserable life of London city. All these conditions are perceived through sight or sound, and perhaps touches, taste, and smell too. Moreover, there are the ‘cries’, ‘sigh’ and ‘curse’ of ‘London’, made more audible: though these are the voices to be felt with the cries and sighs and curses of a city street or other places of London. But whenever you begin in imagination or go by way research, the first and most crucial thing is to get to know about the destruction of the whole city. As Lawrence Buell argues, Carson in the Silent Spring identifies the pesticides industry as “a Child of the Second World War” in which she reports of poisoning by chemicals spread through groundwater and killing off aquatic animals and plants as well as crops”(303).
The “Marriage hearse” in London is indictment that marriage has been destroyed not only because men are using child prostitutes but also that they are contaminated by diseases from such women and giving them to their wives. It also could be because there is no hope for a society where sexual immorality is displayed in such a horrible form. Blake believes in free love but does not believe in exploitation. In London, children have to play a role that even grown women should not be. The “Marriage hearse” exemplifies does society has been morally decayed.
William Blake gives a very tragic and chaotic view of London which is a very deprived and caring city. It also shows how London is controlled; a corrupt city and shows how he is not going to be revel purely for the fact that they are mentally restricted. Blake simply takes the more common and satisfying view of London and replaces it with his own idea of truth. The poem also shows how London has been industrialized with the development of scientific inventions that can be taken as the achievement of the Romantic period. But unfortunately, the poet uses the word ‘charter’d’ which means to give up the access of business just as the Thames River has become charter’d with boasts made by Industrialization. He is also stressing the weakness and woe, in the faces of British people because romantic people seem to fade up with the crowded city which is full of pollutions, he shows love towards natural world rather than the material world. As Indra Singh argues his novel Animal’s People that “By 1285 London had a smog problem arising from the burning of soft coal threatens to change the chemistry of the globe’s atmosphere as a whole” (27).
The poem “London” by William Blake is a lyrical ballad that pushes up against the boundaries of the form, expressing the meaning of a degenerate city. This helps to illustrate the attention in the voice of the poem, expressing sounds and angle that escapes beyond the boundaries of the poem. As Peters Ackroyd remarked, “Blake’s insistence upon tight rhymes and forms is a way of suggesting the limits of the medium he is employing”, (Ackroyd 141). These limits of the form help to express the limits and restrictions of London. Blake is also able to have such a compact and powerful poem through the word choices and the figurative language he employs. In the first two lines, the speaker describes his wandering through “charter’d streets” near the “charter’d, Thames”. “Charter’d” applies a meaning of “given liberty”, but also means that such places are pre-empted as private property (Norton 56) and that such places “evokes the legal rights and privileges upon which the wealth of the city depends” (London 194).
More concisely, the street and Thames have been “mapped”, certified, controlled and evoked with commerce” (Paglia, 59). This rich meaning is quantified by the speaker’s description of the people that are met in the charter’d place. In lines 3-8, the speaker describes the cry of every man and infant, marks of weakness and woe and especially the speaker can hear the clanking of the “mind-forged manacles”. These restrictions can be heard literally. The use of the word “hear” in lines 8 and 13 emphases that the sounds of the poem are real and can be heard beyond the formal expression found in the ballad. This emphasizes on hearing express the speaker’s desire for the reader to hear along with the poet where sounds travel beyond the tight form of the ballad. The image of “manacles” brings to mind that is placed on someone so the tension between internal and external forces that take away liberty, similar to the earlier use of the word “charter’d”. Ackroyd points out, “manacles, charter’d, are one of the radical code words of the oppression of the authorities” (157). By using multilayered words, the image breaks beyond the form of the poem and expresses both the oppressor and oppressed in London.
In the next stanza, the tension is portrayed by the interaction between victims and institutions. The oppressed are portrayed as actual people when the oppressors are of the “chimney-sweepers” should be heard by the church, but the church is “blackening”, devoid of the light and goodness, but only knows death. The use of “appallas”, brings to the mind the word “pall”, thus emphasizing the black church as a coffin-like filled with dead power and authority. These two little lines are not an indictment of the child labor but show the importance of moral authority to do something concerning it. The church oppresses by its lack of light.
The unlucky soldier in line 11, sighs, possibly his last breath whose blood then will run down the walls of government. The sigh is faint, because the dying soldier is far away in foreign lands, scarifying his youth for the monarchy state. This image ties London with the whole world, like this small poem letting its ideas break beyond its immediate scope of London’s darkness and shows it has no bounds. And even so the shy is still powerful enough that it manifests its presence in the palace as the blood running down a wall suggesting the biblical image “the writing is on the wall”, the poet is a prophet for telling the government’s eventual fall. This sign like the crying and clanking previously, is also a sound that has no iambic tenor, thus showing again how these sounds cannot be contained with a traditional song.
In the last stanza is feeling with imaging imagery and sound. Another victim is brought forward, the “youthful Harlot”, whose diseases will turn marriages into death. The
Unpoetic sounds return to full force where the speaker says, I hear “the blast” which attempts to silence the tear of a baby. Interesting, the speaker gives us a specific time he/she walking through this street at “midnight”, which easily is physical time, but also a spiritual time that London is stuck in, at the beginning of the apocalypse. The “marriage hearse” at the end of the poem suggests several things. In the third stanza, the victims have clear oppressors, but in the last stanza does the speaker suggest marriage is the oppressor that drives prostitution? The marriage hearse “is the wedding carriage that turns deadly due to the harlot’s disease. With “marriage” and “hearse” it echoes back to the “church” and “appalas”, suggesting marriage is an oppressor of omission. (In the literal sense, it has been suggested by one of scholar that the marriage laws promoted prostitution, and population of female prostitutes at the times of publication numbered around 50000 (Lincoln193, Ackroyd157). As Camille Paglia has remarked, “In Blake’s radical philosophy, prostitution is created to be religious prudery and social hypocrisy” (Paglia, 60). The image of the marriage hearse shows the tension between form and content. Like the proverbial riding into the sunset or the end of the film, the image of a “marriage hearse” brings is the deathly carriage that is leaving the confines of the poem and carrying its deadly plague to the towns and cities outside “London”.
Thus, through “London” William Blake tries to present the effects of Industrialization of the London city which was morally uncivilized, politically corrupted, psychologically oppressed and physically suppressed due to the Industrial Revolution which has great influence of the French Revolution. This poem is a tremendous indictment of London society as for the scientific invention challenge to churches. End of monarchy referring to the change of politic from Tory to Weigh and war between France and Britain resulting to bloody walls and seeks to establish a voice of gender in the wilderness represents the features of Romantic period.