In the late 18th century and the early 19th century there were two poets named William Blake and William Wordsworth, who came from different backgrounds, but had similar ideas. They were both classed as Romantics. Romanticism means revolting against established social and political structures and against the scientific rationalism of nature and literature. However the late 18th century and early 19th century was a time of historical and social change. It was the time of Revolution. These events had an impact on the work of Blake and Wordsworth. William Blake’s poem, ‘London,’ deals with the difficult and hard life of the working-class people who live there. He describes how dirty the streets are and how the poor people suffer hopelessly and how they are treated in a bad way by the government and monarchy. William Wordsworth however deals with the wealth and glory of London.
Blake was born in London in 1757 and had spent most of his life there. He came from a working class family. His parents made stockings for a living. Because Blake came from a working class background, this might have reflected in his later work, as his subjects are often about poverty and hardship the working class has to deal with. However Blake did not go to school. His mother taught him to read and write, unlike Wordsworth, who went to the ‘Hawkshead Grammer School.’ By the time Blake became ten, he went to a drawing school. When Blake turned fourteen he spent a short time as an apprentice in engraving. He also went to study at the ‘Royal Academy,’ but soon he rejected the traditional way of teaching and dropped out. Blake was known to be an eccentric Romantic poet. Many people thought he was mad, especially when he started to say that he saw visions and heard voices. The government thought of him to be a dangerous man, because of his way of thinking and therefore banned his work of being published. Blake had a difficult time and had to work hard for a living.
As a poet William Blake was specialised in ‘shocking’ the public with his poems. His texts were often of a religious nature, because he rejected the Curch or any other religion. One of his main reasons was that the Church did not do anything for the poor children in London who were forced to work. The French revolution in 1789 was also one of Blake’s inspirations. The French people revolted against the monarchy and the aristocracy, using violence and murder to over win those in power. Blake thought this was exactly what the people in Britain should so, to fight against the governments and monarchy’s restrictions.
He encouraged people to revolt. Blake wore a bonnet rouge to align himself with the French Revolution. Also as a Romantic poet, Blake fought against the Industrial Revolution. He thought it was wrong for people to be working in the factories and not able to work outside. He thought it was important for people to work with nature, to be outside and to be free, which Wordsworth agreed with. Throughout Blake’s life he was staunchly opposed to the forces of authority and created his own version of the story of creation stating that, ‘I must create a system of my own as to be enslaved by another’s man.’ Blake wrote poetry throughout his life, but did not receive any awards or honours like Wordsworth did, until just before his death in 1827.
William Wordsworth was born in Cumberland in 1770 and spent most of his childhood in the countryside, which is different to Blake, who lived most of life in the city. Also Wordsworth came from a middle class family. His father worked as a business agent. In 1787 Wordsworth went to study at Cambridge, this reflects that Wordsworth had an academic and privileged background. After his study he went to France to see and support the French Revolution, which was in 1790. Wordsworth supported revolutionary forces in Europe, but towards the end of his life, he had changed his mind. After the French Revolution, Wordsworth returned back to England, where he went to live in London and published several bodies of work. Wordsworth was very famous during his lifetime and received awards and honours for his poetry.
He became a leading figure in the Romantic movement. His poems mainly focused on nature’s and man’s relationship with the natural environment. Although his poems mainly focused on nature, ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,’ has a more rural theme. It is rather unusual for William Wordsworth to take the city of London as a subject. However Wordsworth even became Poet Laureate in 1843. Some of Wordsworth famous work, including ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ (which was written in 1802) give the landscapes effect on the individuals imagination, unlike Blake, he describes in his poetry, including ‘London’ the effect of social and environmental change upon the freedom of the individual.
The two poems are about London. William Blake’s poem describes how dirty the city is and how the working class people are suffering because they are not treated the way they should be treated. Wordsworth’s poem ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,’ describes how beautiful the city and that there is nothing more clean and calm than London. Blake’s poem, ‘London,’ describes a journey around London, offering a glimpse of what the reader sees as the terrible conditions faced by the inhabitants of the city. He introduces the reader as the narrator as he ‘wanders’ through the ‘charter’d street. Child labour, restrictive laws of property and prostitution are all explored in the poem. Repetition is used twice in the first stanza, words such as charter’d, which refers to the charters that allocated ownership and rights to specific people.
Many including Blake, saw this as robbing ordinary people of their rights and freedom. Also Blake makes the audience imagine a dark chartered city with poor and suffering people. He creates a dark, angry and violent image with words such as; ‘hearse, fear, blood, cry, plagues, and blights.’ The poem is written in a strict ABAB rhyme scheme in each of the four stanzas. In the four stanzas, each section offers a different glimpse of the city, almost like snapshots. It is a ballad like poem; the poet is telling the reader a story. The poem also highlights the government’s restrictions which are laid on the people of London and what it tries to make clear is that we as people should fight against the government, palace and church, and no longer let them control our minds.
Blake writes in his poem about ‘mind forged manacles,’ which means that everyone is making their own restrictions; it is like they are forming chains around their heads. Manacles also can be seen as handcuffs, so perhaps Blake is trying to say that the government and monarchy has robbed the people from the ability to think. Blake wants us to make a difference, because he sees how many people are suffering, because of the government. Blake sees that is can not go on for any longer, which Wordsworth does not mention in his poem, ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,’ he only looks at one particular site of London; Westminster Bridge, which is also one of the wealthier parts of London. Blake also writes about the, ‘harlots curse’ and ‘blights with the marriage hearse’ with ‘harlots curse,’ he means that the youth, who is the future, is being destroyed, because they are corrupted by the government.
With ‘blights with plague the marriage hearse,’ he means that the nature is being destroyed and that a marriage is supposed to be a celebration, but not it is turned to a desolate event. At times the poem becomes biblical, which shows that Blake has a strong interest in religion. It is as if the poet is offering a prediction of the terrible consequences unless changes are made in the city. Blake also writes about other problems Londoners have to face, like the, ‘church,’ which is linked with ‘blood,’ makes the reader imagine a black church, which means that the church is polluting the minds of the faithful.
This tells the reader that even somewhere sacred like the church is just as famished as the government and monarchy. Blake mentions the palace which is linked with blood; from this we can indicate that Blake did not believe in the monarchy, he thought it to be just as corrupt as the government. Blake wants the reader to see that we as individuals should no longer accept that the government, church and monarchy is doing to us. Blake wants that people stand up for them selves and begin a revolution.
‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,’ is a poem written in a sonnet structure. The poem is fourteen lines long and has a regular rhyme scheme, however the poem does not exactly follow the pattern of a sonnet, but then again Romantics were known to reject the limitation of a pre-determined structure. Although a sonnet poem is associated to love poetry. Wordsworth used this as to show his compassion for London. He describes the beauty of London by morning when he stands on Westminster Bridge, which crosses the river Thames by the house of parliament. He describes London from a very nice and rich view in a snapshot.
The morning view of London city, from the bridge is very beautiful, as the whole city is at its quietist and calmest. The air looks bright and the sunrise makes the view peaceful. It is not until the fourth line the audience knows what the subject is about. Here the poet creates anticipation in the reader by using this technique. Throughout his poem Wordsworth used personification. With this technique the poet creates a sense of the city living as a creature. When Wordsworth describes the city as ‘Doth like a garment wear,’ the reader imagines as if the morning enhances the natural beauty of the city. In this line simile is used as well. When Wordsworth describes the river Thames as, ‘The river glideth at his own sweet will,’ he uses personification, he gives the reader the feeling that there is a sense of calmness and freedom.
Another technique Wordsworth uses is comparing nature with man made buildings, so nature is still present and existing peacefully side by side with the city. Wordsworth is also saying ‘All that mighty heart is laying still,’ which means the heart of the nation which also symbolises passion and love. Wordsworth compares the early morning beautiful of the city to a cloak that later will be removed, because a garment is something temporary. The face of the sonnet is laid down by the use of punctuation, which gives the reader the time to imagine the beauty of the site at dawn. Throughout the poem Wordsworth describes how much he adores the city. This is even more clear when he uses hyperbole ‘earth had not anything to show more fair,’ by which he is telling the reader that there is nothing more beautiful than the city of London, this is quite a bold statement. He even tries to manipulate the audience into loving the city.
With ‘dull would be the soul who could pass by,’ he guarantees the reader that they would love the city as much as Wordsworth himself does. He also mentions the cities nature. He compares the cities natural and made features, which he put in the same sentence to compliment each other. However negative language is used as well; ‘Never did the sun more beautifully….’ and ‘Ne’er saw I, never felt a calm so deep!’ This creates an impression that the city is superior to nature. It is almost like Wordsworth is trying to day that London is the pinnacle of creation. Towards the end of the poem, Wordsworth describes London as ‘sight so touching in its majesty,’ which describes the city as majesty awe-inspiring. Words such as, ‘mighty’ and ‘majesty’ suggest the strength of power of the city. It could be compared to a lion or even a monarchy.
Both poets use poetic techniques in their poems to describe London in their own way. On of those techniques is the use of enjambment, in Blake’s poem he talks about; ‘chimneysweepers cry.’ The third stanza represents the working class, in which the poems subjects are only known through the traces that they leave behind. This could be interpreted as Blake is conveying the point that upper classes never see the working class apart from what they leave behind them. ‘The chimney sweepers cry,’ this not reiterates the previous point, but it also gives the reader an eerie feeling to the poem and enables him to ask questions about the subject. In the third stanza; the chimney sweepers in old London would have been children, which again gives a different perspective and image to the ‘chimney- sweepers cry’
The thirds stanza portrays the point that the industry is a rising profession and also a corrupt one. ‘Every blackening church appals,’ which relates tot he idea of sending children into chimneys and that every generation of church members should theoretically do something to stop this. However that is not what they do, instead they just turn a blind eye, something which Blake finds shocking. Relating to the revolution is not only the Industrial but also the French revolution, during that period of the Romantic poetry is ‘hapless soldier’s sigh,’ and ‘the cry of the chimney-sweeper,’ almost mystically metamorphoses into ‘blood down the palace walls.’ This use of enjambment helps create the picture of how much there is wrong with the city as it cannot even fit onto one line.
Both poets used the title as a poetic device. In Blake’s ‘London,’ it is considering the whole of London and the description of the city that he sees as he is moving around the streets. He uses words such as ‘blackening, ‘cry’ etc. Which are negative adjectives. The picture he creates is that of a sad and grimy city. In Wordsworth poem, ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,’ he is trying to put a message across of what he sees. Wordsworth wants to tell the reader that London is the most beautiful city in the country and maybe even on earth. However Wordsworth overlooks the poor conditions in which the working class families lived. He only sees the bright and wealthy side of London. Wordsworth also says, ‘earth has not anything to show more fare,’ because the air is very bright and clear, however the air was only ‘smokeless’, because it was at the early morning, when it was completely calm. Therefore he describes London based on one favourable morning, this is a very selective view.
Both poets use the technique of repetition. William Blake’s poem keeps repeating ‘every,’ which means everybody that lives in London and everywhere he looks. Also he repeats, ‘cry’ frequently. He uses a negative feeling and repetition of, ‘mark,’ which refers to the physical marks carried by the people as a result of conditions they have been living in for a long time and Blake repeated this word to get the message across. The repetition also symbolises the way in each thing can be enforced into people’s minds; repeatedly doing things may cause them to become a habit.
Blake’s tight structure and use of negative language and angry tone in his poem, ‘London’ gives the reader a feeling that there are so many things wrong in London. He wants the people to stand up and fight against all the injustice the government is doing to them. Wordsworth poem ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,’ makes the use of the Petrachan sonnet structure and his uplifting language allows him to create a poem that is peaceful and celebratory. Blake had spent the majority of his life in London, and he had seen the change caused by the Industrial Revolution. He did not live in the countryside like Wordsworth, who therefore perhaps had an idealised view of what this entails.
Wordsworth had spend most of his life living in the countryside and did not have the close connections with the inhabitants of the city. Wordsworth views the city as a tourist; he is not familiar with the working class conditions. He portrays a snapshot of the beauty of one London morning, where as Blake’s closely analysis the city’s social problems. He wrote about this because he could not see past the problems of the Londoners and appreciate the simple beauty of the city as William Wordsworth could. He lived too long in London to see the beauty, after a long period of time living there, he saw the beautiful things as normal and could not appreciate them as Wordsworth.
The poem, ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, would most likely to be more appealing to readers, as it tells about the nice things about London. It is positive and uplifting and makes the reader come into a positive vibe. The poem gives you the feeling that London is a great city and Wordsworth poem almost makes you think that there is nothing more beautiful than London. It makes you want to go to the same place as Wordsworth did and experience the same thing as he did. Whereas Blake gives you a cold and dark image of London. His poem makes you dispise London and it makes you think that it is an awful place to be, whereas, ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,’ makes you want to go to London.