London – Romantic Poetry Revision

Image: London© Duchess

London was written by William Blake in 1794


  • Sadness opposed from institutions such as the Church and the Palace (government)
  • Cities (a lack of wild nature)
  • Awareness of thought by an omniscient poetic voice
  • Conflict between the idea of an individual and collective society


  • Society imposed in cities only results in misery and death
  • Explores ideas of disease, prostitution and child labour (all these he felt were very wrong)
  • This misery is recurrent, from birth to death and repeated
  • Blames this on the Church and the Palace
  • Restriction (charter’d, lack of nature)


“And mark in every face I meet 8

Mark of weakness, marks of woe” 7

Every line of the second stanza has 8 syllables in iambic tetrameter, and then every line in the third stanza has 7 syllables in incomplete, trochaic tetrameter

“But through most thro’ midnight streets I hear 8

How the youthful Harlot’s curse 7

Blasts the new born Infant’s tear, 7

And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.” 8

The line in the first stanza is jarring, and emphasises the idea of breaking from a restrained form. ‘Mark’ suggests something branded permanently. This could be seen as a thesis as the line explains the overriding message of the poem, that everywhere is ‘weakness’ and ‘woe’. This thesis type statement is evidenced specifically later in the poem with every line that holds 7 syllables instead of 8. The lines mention specific individuals, ‘Chimney-sweeper’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Harlot’, ‘Infant’ – this covers all types of people of varying ages and wealth. There is also mention of specific, individual institutions such as the ‘Church’ and the ‘Palace’. The sound of the lines is there to make the reader feel uncomfortable, also about what is happening.

The lexical field of lamentation

1 – weakness, woe

2 – fear, ban

3 – cry, appalls, sigh

4 – curse, tear, plagues

These are evident of the physical effect that the institutionalised oppression appears to be having on the people living in cities. It is all negative and paints the picture of these people’s lives as miserable. It also seems that there is no sense of fight, and a certain tone of submission comes across especially in words such as ‘cry’ and ‘sigh’, the fact there is no fight, relates to the ‘mind-forg’d manacles’. Humans have put themselves under these conditions, and there is no hope of upcoming revolution. This links to Blake’s’ message, of the typical Romantic hatred for large, powerful institutions almost enslaving people into social convention that they must abide by, or be put under some sort of violence. It would be effective in rallying support for the cause as there seems to be nothing negative about these people’s lives and therefore craves the beginning to inaugurate a better life, free from all-encompassing rules.


“…thro’ each charter’d street

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.”

“mark in every face…marks of weakness…”

“mind-forg’d manacles”

“Marriage hearse”

There is a strong thread of restraint and stricture moving throughout the poem. Paired with this is repetition of both ‘charter’d’ and ‘mark’ which in turn create a kind of cyclical, plodding tone. The idea of constant, unchanged oppressive atmosphere comes across with this. It could also suggest a sense of legalism and constant submission to the laws imposed from higher powers. There is also a change in the meaning of ‘mark’. At first there is seeming hope, that this individual poetic voice (who seems to be the only one to notice the darkness), can have this human thought and depth of thinking. Yet in the last line of the stanza, it changes to a static verb suggesting permanent scarring, imperfection. Dashes hopes. To reinforce a sense of unhelpfulness, Blake uses the image of ‘manacles’ but instead of material chains, they are enforced by humans; implying more strength and harder to escape from. Finally, the poem ends with destruction, the final two words is marriage hearse, tying together a supposedly loving bond and death in one image, helping to give that cyclical idea.

AO3 to consider:

Songs of Innocence and Experience

Teachings of Rousseau

French Revolution

18th Century London/Social issues of the time




3 thoughts on “London – Romantic Poetry Revision

    • Khadija Begum says:

      At A level, for Edexcel you don’t compare the poems together like you did at AS you have an unseen and then compare that with one of the poems you have studied. If I remember correctly that is for both the Poems Of The Decade Anthology and the Romantic Poems you studied this year. I feel as though linking the poems together for a comparison may help but I personally wouldn’t recommend it 🙂


  1. year12englishblog says:

    Hi, for the Romantic poetry unit at A2, you write about two of the poems studied (one named in the question, the other chosen), although there’s no need to explicitly compare them, as only AOs 1, 2 and 3 are assessed. There is an unseen poem in the Poems of the Decade paper, but not for Romantics.

    As for what poems this one would work well with, that really depends on the question. I feel like the strongest links would be with the other first generation Romantics (Wordsworth and Coleridge, or even other poems by Blake), but you could write about it alongside just about any of the poems, given the right theme.


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