The poetry of Wordsworth and Blake differ greatly in the style in which they are written, in particular the poetic structure, such as the length of lines and the rhyme schemes. The William Wordsworth poem ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802’ was a sonnet written mainly to convey a sense of happiness and good-nature in reference to both London at the moment in time, as well as his mood and outlook on the world and its beauty at the present time. The William Blake poems analysed in this essay are taken from ‘Song of Innocence’, and refer to the innocence of children and the corruptness surrounding them in the town of London, contrasting to the wonderful sights that Wordsworth describe the city to offer.
In ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802’, the poem begins with a very optimistic outlook on the appearance of London from the bridge which continues throughout the first octave. The comparison to other cities on Earth is made with ‘not any thing to show more fair’, where the breaking up of the words not, ‘any’ and ‘thing’ emphasise the beauty of London in first impressions, as opposed to simply using the alternative, ‘nothing’. Emphasis is also placed in the description of an everyday person who would look upon London and see nothing of Wordsworth’s imagery as being a ‘dull’ man. In further reference to extravagance, the effect of referring to the city as a whole as ‘majesty’ is very regal and the freedom of such a city is very promising to the reader, as opposed to the restriction and confinement of the community of Blake’s ‘London’, from ‘Songs of Experience’.
The simile ‘like a garment wear’ is used in the fourth line in reference to the city of London to give the impression of superiority that the beauty was only to be worn by London and no other. Also, to wear ‘the beauty of the morning’ is personification of the city’s ability to reflect beauty in its landscape. The ‘ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie open unto the fields, and to the sky’ shows the city as having no boundaries to its extent of appearances. The listing of the infrastructure London has to offer from a view from Westminster Bridge also helps an image to broaden out and show a full panorama of London as being a peaceful environment.
What is described from the buildings being ‘open unto the fields, and to the sky’ in line seven is symbolic of a city being open and free, inviting people to follow. However, this could be a metaphorical description, as is the remaining few lines of the octave and the entire sestet. Onomatopoeia in line eight – ‘glittering’ – is used to demonstrate images of ‘smokeless air’, when we know in fact that accounts of London in Blake’s poetry are full of bleak colours, for example shades of grey and black. The sestet then begins with personification: ‘never did sun more beautifully steep in his first splendour’; the phrase spanning lines nine and ten portray imagery of a wonderful landscape which is not native to where Wordsworth is overlooking. It is with this that we see a description of perfection in the mind, stating ‘ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep’ and helps the reader also feel calm in the perceptions and imagery being created. The river also flows ‘at his own sweet will’, which is considerate of freedom, which differs greatly with the sense of imprisonment within the life of a Londoner being nothing of a tranquil sort.
In ‘London’, Blake describes the city in the present tense, with ‘wander’. This shows that the description of corrupt environment and containment is a regularly occurrence in the city, with him marking ‘in every face I meet marks of weakness, marks of woe’. Though metaphorical, the marks have been used instead of the word ‘signs’ to show lack of rebellion and struggle, linking with a self-inflicted ruling conveyed in the metaphor of the ‘mind-forged manacles’. The constant suppression of freedom is also led onto the ‘each chartered street, near where the chartered Thames does flow’ with implications of restrictions, which differs from the sense of freedom in the entire poem by Wordsworth.
The word ‘chartered’ suggest organisational work made to narrow chances of self-determination within small communities. Self -determination is also for all ages, which seems very unlikely in the first two lines of the second stanza. ‘In every cry of every man, in every infant’s cry of fear’ the people fear those who are in control, which is explained by Blake to be the corrupt Church in the final stanza of the poem. A motif of prohibition and limitation is featured across the four stanzas: ‘chartered’ (stanza one); ‘ban’ (stanza two); ‘appalls’ (stanza three); ‘curse’ (stanza four). The use of the word ‘ban’ also contrasts another meaning for the word ‘chartered’ in the first stanza, where it could mean the freedom of the people being granted to them by the sovereign of the time.
In stanza three of ‘London’, Blake uses another focus of one of his poems from the earlier collection ‘Songs of Innocence’: ‘The Chimney Sweeper’. The chimney sweeper, who was a young child employed to sweep the soot from within chimneys to allow drafts through, was a form of child exploitation, which was seemingly encouraged by the Church, one reason why it was deemed by Blake to be corrupt. In this poem, Blake uses the colour black to emphasise the corruptness of the church, which should be appalled by the behaviour expressed in favour of chimney-sweeping. The present participle ‘black’ning’ is also stressing the continuing dishonesty of the Church, which should be a colour of white in recognition of purity.
The children in ‘London’ are known to be used to clean the chimneys despite their own safety being at risk, which can be linked to the seemingly ‘smokeless air’ in line eight of ‘Westminster Bridge’; the ignorance of Wordsworth in the poem can symbolise the child’s ignorance to the work they are doing, believing it to be the better for them. It is also with children that the final stanza is most effective, with the work of the young harlot corrupting the symbol of marriage. The tears of the new-born infant is supposedly ‘blast’, damaging the innocence of the child and describes the true image of the city of London as being one of unfaithfulness, dishonesty and mistrust. The final line describes the marriage having ‘blights with plagues, the marriage hearse’, which is a deliberate adaptation of the vow ’till death do us part’, where the freedom of the wife is contained with the man, who is unfaithful to her.
‘Holy Thursday’ is another poem which can be found in Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’, with a second version also found in ‘Songs of Experience’. The title of the poem itself opens up to a common theme of irony, where the day is not perceived by Blake as being holy. With ‘their innocent faces clean’, the children are very easy to manipulate and be controlled, and the cleanliness suggests that they are only clean on the Holy Thursday and no other day, symbolising a sense of regime and control. Their movement is also very controlled, where it says in line two that they walk in ‘two & two in red & bleu & green’; the movement is structured and similar to Noah’s Ark in the Old Testament, where the animals are being led to safety, whereas the children here are being led into the church walls in colours of the liberied companies. The liberied companies were those responsible for sponsoring their education, and the colours would help determine that as well as your own background, socially and economically.
‘Grey headed beadles’ suggests age and wisdom in the masters of the children, but when paired with the bright colours of the children, grey is very dull and represents the lack of life which the beadles seem to have in comparison to the children, still full of life, innocence and honesty. The corruptness is also brought through with the slight reference to magic in line three using the euphemism: ‘with wands as white as snow’. The magic is a reference to misconduct and control, which also seen in the first stanza of ‘London’ and the colour of white is used ironically against the wands to show purity and goodness within the Church, who seems to be outwardly condoning magic and witchcraft. Another usage of the river Thames is used in the last line of the first stanza in reference to the children entering the Church, where both the Thames and the children are freely moving into an area where it will eventually be controlled by something or someone, in this case the beadles/masters.
‘O what a multitude’ of ‘flowers of London town’ represents the children as a whole and shows the colour and innocence they have, but is later juxtaposed to the seating in ‘companies’ which is a restraint on the children, compared to the ‘mind-forged manacles’ of the everyday person in ‘London’. The lack of freedom is then contradicted again with ‘radiance’ of the children, symbolising their liberty and innocence being childlike and it cannot be taken from them because it is ‘all their own’. Blake then used the biblical word, ‘multitudes’, to describe the seating arrangements of the children within the church walls and is used with double entendre,
in the meaning that the children of innocence were seated like ‘lambs’ (supposedly an allusion to Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God), but are seated in a way which their innocence can easily be sacrificed amongst beadles (supposedly a suggestion to the meaning of Abraham and the sacrificing of the lamb for God). This forced conformity is a prominent motif in the poem, as well as pathos appearing in the last line of stanza two. They raise ‘their innocent hands’, which is a reference to the treatment of children at the time when they would be beaten from having their hands dirty, and is as if they are reaching out to God through hymn.
Compared to ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’, the children are very similar to Wordsworth’s ideology of the city of London when they sing ‘to heaven the voice of song’. In this, it shows that the children’s innocence shows no limits as to what they believe in, and can extend themselves to the sky and upon to fields, much like the description of London in Wordsworth’s view from Westminster Bridge. ‘Beneath them sit the aged men’ where pronunciation of the word ‘aged’ would be emphasis (age-ed) to show goodness in the hearts of the children, and less so in the hearts of their masters.
The irony in line 11 is the ‘guardians of the poor’, when the nature of the beadles’ and masters’ jobs were not to aid the children through means without inflicting harm. Paired with line 14, Blake offers a message to the people of the time that they should ‘cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door’. This one line symbolises the importance of perception as good and as bad, for the treatment of the children is not shaping them for the better, as they believe it to be doing. The irony of the ‘guardians’ is that they are doing to opposite of what they set out to do, which is now ultimately driving an angel ‘from your door’, being ignorant to each other and showing no thought for mistreatment and misguidance.
In the poem ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ the children are further discouraged from liberation, demonstrated in way the poem has been written. The chimney-sweeper’s relevance to the city of London is the widespread occurrence of young children working to clear chimneys in the heavily industrialised city. The innocence of children contributes heavily to what is effectively their exploitation. In the first stanza, the opening is very personal and the helplessness of a child is expressed when he recalls he ‘could scarcely cry ”weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”. The repetition is a technique used by Blake to establish guilt towards the child. Linking to his age, his inability to speak is linked into his daily routine of the ‘chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep’.
The literal implication of the line is the lack of hygiene provided for the child, but also has a metaphorical importance, in the metaphorical darkness and pre-conceived doom of him and the other children. In the second stanza, the sense of being controlled by authority which is similar to those described as ‘grey headed beadles’ in ‘Holy Thursday’. When the child says that ‘you know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair’, the colours in the image conveyed are very dismal and the staining of white is a metaphor for the exploitation of the children. In the third stanza, the child describes a dream which he experienced. Being ‘locked up in coffins of black’, the finality of the coffin is made sure with the lock, symbolising a secret, possibly the cruelty of child exploitation.
In relation to the image portrayed by William Wordsworth in ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’, the openness and freedom in Wordsworth’s portrayal of London is contradictory to what Blake describes the city as a place of corruption, similar to the ideas in ‘Holy Thursday’ and the corruption which the people believed would benefit those cared for by ‘wise guardians of the poor’. The idea of freedom in Wordsworth’s sonnet is also contradicted by the structure of a coffin: a sealed box with little room for manoeuvre, similar to the structure of a chimney, designed to stop the soot from entering the house through the shaft.
In the fourth stanza, the description of the place where Tom visits in his dream as being a ‘green plain’, similar to the description of London in ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’, however the remaining stanzas outline a very conformist perception of work for children. The rhyme scheme of the poem as a whole is comparable with that of a nursery rhyme, making the concept much easier to understand for both the reader and the child. This sense of understanding allows the child then to be lured into the exploitation, thus associating with the dream Tom Dacre sees.
With ‘all their bags left behind’ in the dream after being set free, and then ‘got with our bags and our brushes to work’ symbolises the assumed need for the children to work in order to achieve happiness, another resemblance to irony that is people believing they are doing good by them, but are not realising they are doing the opposite. The final line is also linked to the eleventh and twelfth lines in ‘London’: ‘And the hapless soldier’s sigh Runs in blood down palace walls’; the quote links with the needlessness for people to fight in a war condoned by a corrupt church, mirrored by the needlessness for young children to be placed in a confined space by a corrupt way of life and treatment of infants.
A continued theme of neglect by the family is seen in the poem ‘The Little Boy Lost’. The first of the two stanzas is dialog, instantly conveying to the reader a sense of guilt towards the neglect of the father. The sense of innocence in the third line, ‘Speak, Father, speak to your little boy’, is placed on the emphasis of ‘little’, since the line is dactylic trimester, meaning there are three feet in the line, each containing three syllables, of which the first is stressed. The importance of the stress on little is also symbolic of the responsibility which the man should have for his child, and seem to have disowned him. When the sun appears to have set, the child is then left abandoned. In ‘A Little Boy Found’, the poem is similar to all other poems in the collection of ‘Songs of Experience’, where it reveals the truth about London from the viewpoint of William Blake.
Being very different from Wordsworth’s opinion of London as a visitor, Blake’s outlook on London’s children and their treatment is descriptive in the poem. In the third stanza, the child is accused of blasphemy and is taken by priest to be made an example of. ‘He led him by his little coat, and all admired the priestly care’ demonstrates the corruptness and controlling nature of the Church on individual beliefs is strict. When the priest ‘bound him in an iron chain, and burned him in a holy place’, the enjambment of the last three verses emphasises continuity of the process. The repetition of ‘the weeping parents wept in vain’ in the fourth and fifth stanzas shows that the parents could not do anything to save their child but cry and pray. In the final stanza, the first two lines emphasise the reality of the situation, stating the Church as being a place ‘where many had been burned before’, and questions the reputation of Church as a house of God if there are ‘such thing done on Albion’s shore’.
‘The Sick Rose’ is not a poem which directly refers to London in a literal manner, but the meaning of the poem can be perceived as having a bearing on the perception of London. Blake instantly addresses the rose in the opening line, personifying the rose as an animated being, possibility a person. ‘The invisible worm’ is a symbol of something in the air which we can neither see nor touch in the air, but the worm can destroy, much like the image painted when a worm is found within rotting apples. The concept of a small blemish destroying its vicinity could be a reference to London in the way the community lives and how it could lead down a long line of consequences in a ‘sick’ London. The description of the red being a ‘crimson’ variation could be a reference to love and the corruption of the Church in ‘London’, where the final stanza references Blake’s viewpoint on marriage.
‘Has found out thy bed’ could be the invisible disease on the physical rose bed, an unwanted creature which takes away its freedom; the double entendre of the line is an invisible disease similar to ‘the harlot’s curse’ in ‘London’, where the unwanted person takes away the freedom of love and marriage. The oxymoron of ‘dark secret love’ is also contradictory to the Church, in the concealment of love being impure in its nature, being lust or extramarital affairs. In another perception, the Rose could also be a reference to England, as the heraldic badge of England being the Tudor rose. With the capital being London, the rose would then be a direct reference to the sickness of London and the way in which lives exist, contradictory to ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ in its tranquil surroundings, unaffected by any sickness.
In the poetry of William Blake, the comparison with Wordsworth’s ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802’, is clearly shown to be a bleaker, yet more vivid and representative an outlook of London at that time. The presentation of London in ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ is less so, especially in the sestet of the sonnet describing a setting not consistent with the octave’s physical description of the buildings present. Although Wordsworth’s conveyance of happiness and tranquillity as a result of seeing London from Westminster Bridge is clearly evident, Blake’s poems contains more extended metaphors in those found on ‘Songs of Experience’, such as ‘London’.