Both “The Moment” by Margaret Atwood and “London” by William Blake are poems about man’s relationship and dependency on nature. They both teach the message that you need to embrace nature to survive as a human; and warn against the consequences of not doing so. Where Atwood’s poem is more of a warning about what could happen if we reject nature, Blake let’s us experience what this is actually like, he describes humans trying what Atwood has warned against.
The tone of the poems is very different. Blake’s tone could be described as morbid, oppressive and disillusioned with words like “woe” and “blackening,” where the tone of Atwood’s poem is clearer and more didactic, more suited to delivering the political message it aims to, and less personal than Blake’s narrative poem. There are elements of a misanthropic nature in both poems. Atwood’s poem seems to be quite mocking of the human race, showing how oblivious we are to what we are bringing upon ourselves, with the line “house, half-acre, square mile, island, country” sounding somewhat like a politicians speech. Blake is very bitter and condemns man in his outcry against the industrialisation of London.
Both poets use equal stanzas and rather simplistic language in their poems. For Atwood, this is to deliver her message to as many people as she can. Blake’s poem takes on a song-like quality and he creates this nursery-rhyme feel to show how purity can be corrupted through experience, in the way he uses tabula rasa in his “new-born infant” who is already a hindrance to his “harlot” mother.
The poems slightly contradict each other in their idea of what being in sync with nature is and what it is exactly which makes you fall out of sync with nature. Atwood says that the struggle and “hard work” to have more, achieve more and be more is human nature, and makes us one with nature and living alongside it. However, the moment we “at last” stop struggling and sit back to admire our wealth, saying “I own this” is the moment nature rejects us. On the other hand, Blake shows this struggle in the industrialisation of the city and this does not seem in sync with nature at all. Both poets agree on the fact that in trying to control nature, nature can destroy us; we cannot live without it. They show this through a change of pace and rhythm. In “The Moment” the building pace of stanza one is broken by “I own this.” This breaks the natural pace of the poem, showing how humans have upset the natural flow of life.
Blake also uses this idea in his change of rhythm from the first to second stanza, showing how, due to human actions, the natural rhythm of life has changed, in the same way the natural rhythm of the poem does; what we are doing is not natural. Atwood uses rhythm in her second stanza to warn against challenging nature. She tells how the “trees will unloose their soft arms from around you” and the “air will move back from you.” This whole stanza has a feel of things moving backwards like a tape in rewind. Time moves forwards, unlike in this stanza. Here, Atwood is using Blake’s idea of how this behaviour is unnatural. Atwood is also telling us how we can’t survive without nature; we need “air” to breathe. The last line “and you can’t breathe,” breaks the flow of the poem, making you take a breath. This almost replicated the action of gasping for air. Blake also warns against trying to break away from nature, he describes a city full of misery and “woe.”
Although Atwood focuses more on how nature will reject us and the consequences of nature, where Blake talks more about human suffering and human consequences, with more manmade references, poet poets use the idea of trying to control nature. Blake uses oxymoron’s to show this. The ideas of “wandering” through a “chartered” street and a “chartered” river which is “flowing” seem to contradict themselves. “Chartered” implies carefully measured and controlled, but in reality, man cannot ever charter a free and “flowing river,” a part of nature. Where Atwood writes in blank verse and in a much more free nature, with a constantly changing pace, to show the lack of control we have over nature, Blake’s structure is much more restrictive. He uses an alternate line rhyme and a strong iambic pentameter comes through in “in every cry of every man, in every infant’s cry of fear.” This strong metre creates a relentless pace, and conveys an idea of confinement and being trapped, due to the set form, mirroring the “chartered” lives of the cities inhabitants after they have tried to control the nature surrounding them.
Although nature comes across a lot stronger in Atwood’s poem, in the way she gives nature its own voice saying “we never belonged to you,” both poets use the idea of mass to create strength. In “The Moment,” Atwood uses the exclusive pronoun “they whisper,” putting nature in the plural. Blake also uses this idea in the use of “every” voice, to show the wide-spread, and strength of the misery in the city due to man.
Both Atwood and Blake make use of repetition. Atwood does this in the repetition of “the moment,” first to show the human perception of the situation, and secondly to show the reality of it, highlighting the stupidity of man. Blake does this in his repetition of “every cry.” This use of anaphora is a declamation to be heard, reminding readers of what they would rather not admit to and emphasising the idea of no escape. Both poets also effectively use onomatopoetic techniques. In “London,” Blake’s use of the plosive /b/ in “ban” “blasts” “blackening” “blood” “new-born” and “blights” explodes from the lips to join the crying and cursing on the London streets, making the poem quite sensory and allowing the reader to actually experience “London.”
In the second stanza of “The Moment,” the sounds start from a soft /s/ and gradually build up through a harsher /b/ to a sinister ‘hissing’ sound in the alliteration “cliffs fissure and collapse.” This reflects the worsening of the damage nature will cause and how humans will carry on until it is too late. Blake also uses an alliteration in “mind-forged manacles,” reinforcing the idea that this misery, or impending misery in Atwood’s cause, is entirely self-inflicted by humans. “Mind-forged” gives the idea that people are trapped by their own actions, and are possibly so brainwashed by the authorities striving for the glory of industrialisation, that even though they see themselves as helpless, they do not even consider the possibility of rebelling. This also has a sense of a loss of freedom and free will.
The main feeling, I believe, conveying in both poems is blame on humans for our actions and the idea of a need for change soon before we have to face the consequences.