Analysis of William Blake's London (Songs of Innocence): The Cry of the Chimney-sweep and the Sigh of the Soldier


The opening image of wandering in London’s first lines recall the introduction to Songs of Innocence, but with a twist; we are now quite far from the piping, pastoral bard of the earlier poem: we are in the city. The poem’s title denotes a specific geographic space, not the archetypal locales in which many of the other Songs are set. Read More Romantic   Period Everything in this urban space—even the natural River Thames—submits to being “charter’d,” a term which combines mapping and legalism. Chartered Street refers to a street where freedom is guaranteed by royal charter. But here, what Blake saw speaks that there was ironical freedom in that street. Naturally, Blake’s experiences are at quite harmony / symmetry with the nature of the street. He saw that the Thames is flowing, so far being restricted by this ironical freedom. Read More Romantic   Period Even he saw signs of starvation, woe and weakness in the face of everyman. It satirically represents what kind of 18th century Blake was passing through:
“I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.”

While roaming in the Chartered Street, Blake heard a few sounds which were quite unnatural in outlook. He faced the cry of simple men, the cry of infants, the cry of the chimney sweepers for their deplorable condition, the soldier’s cry for getting bathed in blood. The last but not the least cry which he heard was the cry of mid-night. The young whore’s curse for the unhappy marriage and the newborn babes’ thrilling cry attracted Blake’s mind the best. Read More Romantic   Period These heart-battering sounds force a man like Blake to be obsessed (1Ii’) in such thoughts. Here, Blake is showing the cruelest disease of society which has to be cured at any cost.

Blake’s repetition of this word (which he then tops with two repetitions of “mark” in the next two lines) reinforces the sense of stricture the speaker feels upon entering the city. It is as if language itself, the poet’s medium, experiences a hemming-in, a restriction of resources. Blake’s repetition, thudding and oppressive, reflects the suffocating atmosphere of the city. But words also undergo transformation within this repetition: thus “mark,” between the third and fourth lines, changes from a verb to a pair of nouns—from an act of observation which leaves some room for imaginative elaboration, to an indelible imprint, branding the people’s bodies regardless of the speaker’s actions:
“In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every black’ning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls” 

Ironically, the speaker’s “meeting” with these marks represents the experience closest to a human encounter that the poem will offer the speaker. Read More Romantic   Period the entire speaker’s subjects—men, infants, chimney-sweeper, soldier, and harlot—are known only through the traces they leave behind: the ubiquitous cries, the blood on the palace walls. Signs of human suffering abound, but a complete human form—the human form that Blake has used repeatedly in the Songs to personify and render natural phenomena—is lacking. In the third stanza the cry of the chimney-sweep and the sigh of the soldier metamorphose (almost mystically) into soot on church walls and blood on palace walls—but we never see the chimney-sweep or the soldier themselves. Likewise, institutions of power—the clergy, the government—are rendered by synecdoche, by mention of the places in which they reside. Indeed, it is crucial to Blake’s commentary that neither the city’s victims nor their oppressors ever appear in body: Blake does not simply blame a set of institutions or a system of enslavement for the city’s woes; rather, the victims help to make their own “mind-forg’d manacles,” more powerful than material chains could ever be. 

The poem climaxes at the moment when the cycle of misery recommences, in the form of a new human being starting life: a baby is born into poverty, to a cursing, prostitute mother. Sexual and marital union—the place of possible regeneration and rebirth—are tainted by the blight of venereal disease. Thus Blake’s final image is the “Marriage hearse,” a vehicle in which love and desire combine with death and destruction. 

This line takes us to the core of 18th century English society. The line wants to say about those men who are fettered / chained by the mind of those who have authority. Read More Romantic   Period Here Blake throws his sharp invective for all kinds of restraints and prohibition which instead of securing the common men’s freedom victimize them to inhuman suffering. Here, Blake wants to hit at the very root of the very social system which is degrading. Here Blake who is a supporter of romanticism feels brotherly affection for the simple lot and shares their suffering. He earnestly requests the good wishers of the world to bring remedy for the going situation.

This line depicts the consequences of the love-less marriage. An unhappy husband goes to seek diversion in the arms of a young prostitute. As a result of the physical union between them, the prostitute gives birth to a child. Now, that lady curses the unhappy marriage of the man for the cause of this misery. Read More Romantic   Period She curses him hugely which has two-fold significance. Firstly, the curse shows that the new born child has no future being an illegimate child. Secondly; the curse regards the love-less marriage as hearse! Dead-body as (cit) for such conjugal relationship, the new born child is affected with the germ of the venereal disease like syphilis:
“But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse”

In 1789, unable to find a publisher for his Songs of Innocence, Blake and his wife engraved and printed the work at home. Read More Romantic   Period This was the first large work created in his novel method of “illuminated printing,” which combined text and decorations on a single etched plate. Blake’s most popular poems have always been Songs of Innocence, and the volume displays characteristics that become more marked in Blake’s later work. It is written in a lyric style of great freshness, simplicity, and directness. 


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