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    A Comparison of Wordsworth and Blake’s Poems About London

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    Wordsworth traditionally wrote poems of a rural theme, focussing particularly on nature and the natural world; this can be related to the fact that he spent most of his life living in the Lake District and so it is a little unusual for Wordsworth to have written a poem based on London. It was written on what he saw as he passed by London on his way to Dover and shows his perception of London from Westminster Bridge.

    Many would argue that since he didn’t look deeper into London and see the downside of the city life, that his poem creates an outlook on London that would more commonly be associated with tourists as opposed to Londoners. Blake on the other hand, is a Londoner, and his view on London seems darker and casts a rather gloomy image about the place. The poems were only written four years apart from each other, and there is no strong evidence to suggest that such a large change occurred between the two dates that the poems were written.

    Wordsworth’s ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ is a classic sonnet in terms of structure. It is split into the octet and sestet and is composed using iambic pentameter each line having ten syllables with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. The octet, as is traditionally the case, describes the subject in question (usually sonnets are meant to be love poems based on women subjects, however, in this instance the subject of Wordsworth’s ‘love’ is London). For the remaining six lines (the sestet), the poet will respond to the octet, normally using his/hers emotions as the basis for content.

    William Blake’s London uses a far more basic and customary format with the regular four line stanzas and in this instance using iambic tetrameter, which yet again involves moving from unstressed to stressed syllables, however, there are only eight syllables per line as opposed to the ten syllables per line seen in Wordsworth’s sonnet. Biasness is unequivocally present in both Wordsworth’s and Blake’s poems, they both set out to show the reader that they’re right though both poems completely contradict each other.

    Wordsworth appears to have nothing but praise and admiration for the ‘majesty’ of London, whilst Blake is stern in his condemnation of London, and prefers to display it’s darker side. The time of day at which both poems were written reflects the difference in attitude towards London. Wordsworth writes his in ‘The beauty of the morning’ a time of day traditionally associated with peace and tranquillity and that often brings about a more optimistic outlook towards life as a whole. However, contrast this with Blake, who appears to have constructed his poem at nightfall.

    Not only does this create a dark and gloomy image, but it is also the time of day commonly associated with the criminal side of cities when the likes of prostitutes are more likely to be seen. Both times of day produce conflicting images in reader’s minds and it provides the base on which the rest of the poems are compiled on. Wordsworth has chosen quite a audacious opening to ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ by proclaiming that; ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’ It’s an emphatic way to open the poem and clearly drives across just how much Wordsworth was taken in by London and it’s alleged beauty.

    The statement itself is clear and unambiguous and it draws the attention of the reader immediately. Immediately Wordsworth’s feelings towards London are known and the tone is set for the rest of the poem to follow up the resounding start. Wordsworth has further managed to make great use of the iambic pentameter, with the word ‘Earth’ being the stressed syllable, it further emphasises the point Wordsworth is attempting to make. Personification is quite frequently used throughout ‘Upon Westminster’s Bridge’ and helps create a delusion of grandeur.

    The city now doth like a garment wear The beauty of the morning; silent, bare. ” The use of personification here creates the image of luxury and wealth and this type of image is maintained throughout. Later on, ‘the river glideth at his own sweet will’ Here the personification is perhaps more apparent, but nonetheless it still describes appearance and further produces an image of majesty and luxury. What is more than a little surprising is just how far Wordsworth goes to explain fully his reaction upon seeing London.

    In the sestet he spends the majority of his time seemingly comparing London to nature and how ‘never did sun more beautifully steep’ and so on. This is a little surprising as William Wordsworth is often associated as more of poet of the natural world, and his love of the natural world is no secret ‘Daffodils’ is a further testament to this. Due to his rural upbringing, Wordsworth is very much a naturist and as such, for him to be comparing a city to the natural world fully displays the true extent of his excitement at seeing London in the flesh.

    Wordsworth believes London to be the ‘fairest’ city on Earth, he considers it to be ‘open’ to the ‘fields and to the sky’. This presents a rather spacious and welcoming image about London, however this contrasts greatly to how Blake sets out to present London. Blake’s version of London appears to be more enclosed and tedious, the way he presents it produces a city that is as far from the spontaneity of nature as can be. Whereas nature is unstructured and a bit wild, London is ‘charter’d’ and almost monotonous in its layout.

    This idea of a structured London then leads Blake onto the thought of imprisonment, how the entrapped people of London are ‘prisoners’ of their own city. “In every voice, in every ban, The mind-forged manacles I hear. ” Here Blake seems to suggest that the residents of London are subject to their own captivity, that its not just a few people that are restricted by boundaries of London, but that everybody is. It could be perhaps that the tedium and horror of everyday London life becomes a burden upon the inhabitants so much so that it almost acts as a different style of imprisonment.

    He appears to suggest that the diseased and impoverished lifestyle that they all lead will ultimately end in mental anguish and inability to be free. Blake effectively uses repetition throughout the poem, particularly in the first and second stanza to help create his dark and dreary interpretation of life in London. In the first stanza, the word ‘charter’d’ is used twice, perhaps due to a lack of other suitable words that would help deliver his point successfully, though it is more than likely that repetition was intentionally used to serve the purpose of help create the monotonous lay out of London.

    In the second stanza, repetition is used to highlight that everybody is involved and not just a select few; “In every cry of every Man, In every Infant’s cry of fear, In every voice, in every ban, The mind-forg’d manacles I hear” By using ‘in every’ to begin three of the four lines in this particular stanza it helps to further create Blake’s desired illusion of these problems affect every aspect of London as opposed to as what is traditionally considered to only affect those that lead an impoverished lifestyle.

    It is most probably quite significantly exaggerated, but nonetheless it still adds to the overall tone of the poem and produces quite a remarkable mechanical tone to the overall poem. The language and style that the two poets choose quite noticeably reflects different concerns and opinions on London, yet in these conflicting views lie some subtle differences, that at first glance may go unnoticed not still contribute to the idealisation of the two poets. One such example can be seen in the description of the river Thames.

    Wordsworth states that ‘The river glideth at his own sweet will:’ The river is given a sense of freedom, almost a mind of its own, which is of course a personified version of the river. Blake however, chooses a very different adaptation of the river, rather then giving it majestic and free qualities, Blake decides to restrict it, produce the image that the river, like the city, is a man made creation, and as such, develops the characteristics that he associates with the monotony of London.

    Just like the streets, the Thames is ‘chartered’ and another pivotal word used is ‘flow’. Wordsworth prefers to say that the river ‘glideth’ which alters the characteristic of the river, making it seem more spontaneous and exciting, however, by stating it flows, he is taking away the spontaneous characteristic of the river, it creates the image that like the city, the river is nothing special and in the end, is just another river.

    Throughout his poem, Wordsworth talks about the tranquillity of London how the ‘houses seem asleep’ and how he has ‘never felt, a calm so deep! The exclamatory punctuation seen at the end helps contribute to the generally exciting and enthusiastic aura. However, in comparison to this, Blake’s poem seems to suggest a slightly unruly and awake London. Blake includes about ‘the youthful harlot’s curse’ and ‘chimney-sweeper’s cry’ and this provides a sense of a London that is never quite at peace. It would perhaps be a little nai?? ve to suggest that Blake views London as an ever boisterous city, though he certainly seems to imply that London never sleeps and is rarely, if ever, inactive.

    A large emphasis in Blake’s poem is placed on dark imagery such as ‘youthful harlot’s curse’ and ‘Runs in blood down palace walls. ‘ However, out of all the varying imagery Blake uses, one of the cleverer uses of language in the poem is arguably ‘In every infant’s cry of fear’ The word that will clearly stand out is ‘fear’ and that is the most apparent inclusion of the dark imagery in that particular phrase, however, the ‘infant’ is quite a significant choice of people.

    Normally infants aren’t expected to be fearful, they are commonly perceived to be cheerful and excite able, joy is a word that would be more commonly associated with infants as opposed to fear and that in itself is quite a powerful use of imagery. The conclusion of Blake’s poem is an image of darkness, almost a sense of hidden danger (‘midnight’) prostitution and of course its resultant disease. However, Blake appears to leave potentially the most dark and potent line of them all till the end; And blights with plague s the marriage hearse. ‘

    It virtually slows down the whole poem to breaking point. Marriage was frequently seen as the most sacred of vows, yet here it is, in the most poignant of statements, perhaps a symbolism of the decayed and general corruption of the London life. On the other hand, William Wordsworth’s poem seems to predominantly build up to a crescendo of excitement, to a point until he can no longer hold back the true extent of his joy at seeing London.

    The proceeding twelve lines, although served a purpose of their own, appear to be building up to a short two-worded phrase that perfectly sums up the whole of Wordsworth’s attitude towards the city. The exclamatory punctuation seen at the end of ‘Dear God! ‘ gives the impression as being the climax of the whole poem. This is then followed up in the last line and a half, by a prevailing mood of peace and contentment, alas ‘that might heart is lying still’. The impressions that both poets aim to make are entirely different, a factor that is reflected in the type of language used.

    Wordsworth, who seeks to describe the sense of majestic freedom that he saw in London, uses only positive diction; never a bad word about London is uttered so as not to spoil his image of grandeur. In comparison, Blake, who seeks to express his disgust in the nature of London and the lifestyle that is lead within its boundaries, uses only negative language and never an optimistic word is written. In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in between these two representations, though through the biased eyes of these two poets, the true variation that London has to offer is displayed magnificently.

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    A Comparison of Wordsworth and Blake’s Poems About London. (2017, Oct 10). Retrieved from

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