Saturday, May 3, 2008

Close Reading "London" by William Blake

The close reading is lines 9-14:

"And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.
But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse."

"London" by William Blake, can be found in our poetry anthology page 33. And online at:

This poem is part of Blake's series on innocence, in which he wrote about the bad conditions in London. Basically the poem. Blake talks about all of the sadness caused by poverty which he sees in the streets of London. In the poem he describes the people he meets/ passes on the streets.

The tone of this poem is very sad and depressing. The poem has four rhyming quatrains. The poem has an abab rhyming scheme. The poem is set in London in the poorer sections, at midnight. Line 9 talks about the sad state that the soldiers are in. I was not sure what exactly hapless meant so I looked it up in the OED and it means 'unlucky'. Interpreting this line it seems like the soldiers are just as unlucky as any one else is, the soldiers seem powerless when compared to line 10, where the blood of everyone 'runs' down the palace walls; which is personification. The palace seems to be distant on the inside from everything going on around it, including the blood on the walls outside. In line 11 the streets are talked about from a midnight point of view, when most people are sleeping, and the rest of the population comes out, like prostitutes. It is interesting that Blake chose to describe the prostitutes as youthful, because it implies that they are pretty young, like they had to turn to prostitution because they had no other possible way of surviving, or of making a living. In line 13 the young prostitute curses the birth of the baby, this line strongly suggests that the prostitute is not happy about the baby, but only sees it as another mouth to feed. Line 14 is a very interesting because the prostitutes are visited by married men whom then give any Sexually transmitted deasies to their wives. Obviously cheating on the spouse may involve the end of the marriage, but also if an STD that a wife was given by her husband from his sleeping with a prostitute could end up creating bigger, nasty problems. There is also an interesting paradox of marriage, with is thought of as a new beginning of two lives, and a hearse which is something that deals with the transportation of dead bodies.

1 comment:

AmyD. said...

I think that another huge tone in this poem and this particular selection of lines is sarcasm dripping with disdain. It seems to me that the mention of the palace immediately invites its residents to take a closer look at the poem. The author then proceeds to speak in an almost harsh way about the things that are going on around him in London. I think that he could have done this because he realized that he finally got the attention of those secured within the palace walls. In a sense, his description of his surroundings was an amplification of what he actually saw in order to enlighten those with the power to create change.