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How to analyse the poem "London" by William Blake

"London" is a poem by William Blake, first published in 1794 in his collection "Songs of Experience". The poem is a scathing critique of the social, economic, and political conditions of London during the late 18th century.

The poem presents a bleak portrait of the city as the speaker wanders through its streets, observing the suffering and despair of its inhabitants. The speaker notes the "marks of weakness" and "marks of woe" on the faces of the people he encounters, and hears their cries of fear and despair.

This is one of the 15 poems used in the Power and Conflict collection in the AQA Poetry Anthology. Let’s analyse the poem:


The poem touches on several societal ills prevalent in Blake's time, such as child labour, prostitution, poverty, and the exploitation of the working class. The cry of the "Chimney-sweeper" and the "hapless Soldier's sigh" highlight the plight of those who are forced to work in dangerous and oppressive conditions, while the curse of the "youthful Harlot" represents the anger and frustration of those who have been marginalised by society.

Form and structure

William Blake's "London" is a poem consisting of four quatrains, each containing four lines with an ABAB rhyme scheme. While the first stanza describes the sights of London, the remaining three focus on the sounds that the speaker can hear.

The third stanza is an acrostic spelling out the word "HEAR" with the first letter of each line. The poem makes use of iambic tetrameter in some lines, as seen in the first three lines, but this changes in the fourth line when the speaker confronts the people of the city, interrupting the walking rhythm to reflect the content of the poem.


The poem employs various literary devices such as caesura, metaphor, and enjambment. Enjambment is a frequent formal device used by the poet, where a line is ended before the completion of a sentence or phrase. This is evident in the transition from lines three to four of the first stanza, and from line four of the second stanza to line one of the third stanza.

Caesurae are pauses in the middle of lines and are caused by either a break in the meter or punctuation. An example of this can be found in line four of the first stanza, which reads "Marks of weakness, marks of woe." Another instance is in line three of the second stanza: "In every voice: in every ban."

The poem also contains numerous examples of metaphors, particularly in stanzas two and three.


The sensory imagery in "London" mainly focuses on visual and auditory elements. The speaker describes the sounds of the city, such as "every cry of every Man" and "every Infants cry of fear," which gives readers a mental picture of a crowded and noisy place filled with people suffering in pain. Additionally, the metaphor of "mind-forg'd manacles" visually portrays the mental shackles that bind each person in the city.

The third stanza uses the image of a "blackening Church" to depict the corruption of the church during the time the poem was written. The auditory image of a "Soldiers sigh" is quickly followed by the visual image of "blood [running] down Palace walls."

In the final stanza, the speaker evokes the sound of a "youthful Harlots curse" and the visual of a "Marriage hearse," which symbolises a black mourning vehicle that also serves as a carriage for a newly-wed couple—a chilling and ominous image.


Blake's "London" addresses various themes including urban life, corruption, and childhood. The latter, which is related to the broader nature of life in the city, is explored through the poem's depiction of the destruction of childhood innocence. The poem opens with a pessimistic view of living and working in London, where misery and suffering are rampant.

The children in the city are particularly vulnerable and are forced to deal with the sins of their family members and the darkness of the urban streets. The speaker is surrounded by pain and despair, a reflection of humanity's darker side, which has made it impossible for the world to be happier and freer in the city.

Overall, "London" is a powerful critique of the social and economic conditions of London during the late 18th century, and it highlights the tragic consequences of a society that has been built on the exploitation and suffering of the working class. The poem is an example of Blake's unique style of combining political and social commentary with his poetry, and it remains a powerful critique of the inequalities and injustices of the world today.

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