In ‘London’, ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ and ‘The Sick Rose’, Blake explores many aspects of English society in the Victorian era. In this essay, I will be analysing how Blake presents this by comparing and contrasting the context, literary devices and nature of these poems to uncover Blake’s interpretation and message to 18th century England. To start with, I will be analysing Blake”s views on the government. In these poems, Blake”s statements offer deep insight into society and criticises whoever is at fault.
In ‘London’, he heavily criticises the government for their injustice and division of society, as this leads to hate and violence between the classes in the general public. Blake presents the divisions when he says ‘Charter’d street’ and ‘The charter’d Thames’. This idea of everything, even the river Thames, being organised and separated shows how the government has purposely split the city to create antagonism between the community. In ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ Blake again criticises the government for their policy of child labour, except that in this poem, the subject of the poem, a child, narrates most of the poem.
However, this has a strong affect on the reader as the criticism seems stronger and perhaps even more valid and moving, although the criticism is not as blatant as in “London” and the child is only slightly reproachful in his tone. The child simply states the regrettable facts of his life which makes the reader naturally blame the government and church, who we know to be responsible for this. As I mentioned before, the narration style between the three poems contrasts greatly. In ‘London’, Blake takes on the tone of an observer, noting what people do on a daily basis, their regular activity, ‘I wander through each charter’d street… nd mark in every face I meet, marks of weaknessâ€¦” I think this form of narration is effectual because Blake is watching these people who are unaware that they are under surveillance or being studied which means that they are probably behaving as they normally would, not putting on a show for an audience they know to be watching. Therefore, they are unconsciously offering an honest and detailed insight into how in 18th century England life was domineering and oppressive. Blake also narrates in the form of first person, using “I” four times in the poem.
This shows his attachment to the people of “London” and how his anger at their conditions involves him in their lives and makes him want to command other peoples attention, subtly using the vertical acrostic “HEAR” in the third paragraph, as if he is commanding people to pay attention and which is also onomatopoeic as we can “Hear” the working class pain. Blake cleverly does not give the people of “London” a voices, only collective “Sighs” and sounds of “Woe”. This echoes the fact that people in 18th century England were denied a voice.
In comparison, in “The Sick Rose”, the poet takes on a troubled, insistent voice where he, unlike in “London”, opens with a first line that makes a statement in an undisputable tone. He is telling the “Rose” that it is “Sick”, which is a disturbing oxymoron because a rose is a tradition symbol of love, youth, passion and health, so it grips the reader”s attention. In fact, I think that this line is almost redolent of the bible “O Rose”, which gives the poem an understated religious connotation.
By this I mean it reminds me of the lament and distress the prophet Jesus went through in trying to guide people towards God, in both its subject and delivery: “O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts! ” In this poem, Blake is more an involuntary witness, rather than a conscious observer “London” or a concerned interviewer “The Chimney Sweeper”. He is warning the “Rose” and his lament for the state of society is at its most apparent in this poem and I think that this poem is the most emotionally charged of the three, although there are no obvious words of affection.
In “The Chimney Sweeper” Blake doesn”t allow himself to get too emotionally attached, although his rage is purposefully evident in certain places, as when the child explains his only fault as being “Happy” and judges societies method of parenting which was to put the child to arduous work while they spent their time “Praising God” and going “Up to the church to pray”. However, in “The Sick Rose”, Blake”s voice is poignant and remorseful, which comes across in every line particularly the ending “Does thy life Destroy” which I think is rather an abrupt ending-the poem ends as the “Rose” is about to be destroyed.
The fact that he has to explain to the “Rose” what is happening to it shows that the “Rose” is too young and innocent to realise that what is happening to it is wrong. Personally, this narrative style is my favourite, as I think that it has a direct effect on the reader and the point is made more urgently than the other two poems. To turn to the narration is the third poem, “The Chimney Sweeper”, differs largely between the others and is almost special in Blake”s account of this psychologically, mentally and physical abuse of the child.
What distinguishes the poem is that Blake hands the poem over to the victim to narrate after questioning it, both of which are not done in the previous poems. This allows the child a voice with which it leads the reader through the key events of his life-from being “Happy upon the Heath”, in which the alliteration of the letter “H” is onomatopoeic resembling a child”s hearty chuckle, to being taught to “Sing the notes of woe”. This allows us to see Victorian England through his eyes and therefore makes the poem more personal and intimate than the other to.
Its effect is powerful because it allows the reader to put themselves in this unfortunate child”s shoes and briefly live his life which truly outrages the reader, which is the intended effect. The child”s response is almost mechanical and completely mature, which shocks the reader because we know that the child is so young that it can”t even pronounce it”s own job and can only say “”weep”, which is also a pun as it is sounds as though the child is “weeping” which gives the poem an emotive touch.
This point leads me to the psychological affect that Blake presents the 18th century English society to suffer from in the three poems. As I mentioned, in “The Chimney Sweeper” the child”s mature tone distresses the reader. Instead of being inquisitive as children naturally are, he is in an unnatural frame of mind in which he has sorrowfully accepted his fate, which is actually more alarming. However, he does realise that there is something wrong with him “They think they have done me no injury” implying that he understands that his parents have damaged him.
His bittersweet reminiscing of the short time of happiness in his life “Happy upon the heath and smil”d among the winters snow” is presented in a way that shows that the child has been denied a childhood and that his spirit has been broken “Clothed me in the clothes of death”. This entire trauma has made the child reject the idea of religion that the society accepts “Godâ€¦who makes up a heaven of our misery” and perhaps has impelled him to search for the true meaning of God.
In “London”, Blake presents the society as being so degraded that it has tortured their minds into a captive state “Mind-forged manacles” which is a distressingly graphic metaphor. This statement is extremely disconcerting because it shows that the mind, which is where every human instinct and emotion starts, has been put through so much agony that the pain now has now empowered the mind and imprisoned it in manacles. This has a very strikingly alarming impact on the reader. And what”s more striking is the restriction placed on these people to stop them from expressing this torment “In every voice, in every “ban”.
Something that makes “The Sick Rose” stand out is that the whole poem is a metaphor; the poet infuses the poem with symbolism especially when compared to the other two poems. The “Worm” embodies many things; mostly the church and government who had the only say in how 18th century England was ruled. The “Worm” represents all the corruption in the world, but in particular that which the government inflicts on the “Rose” and the Church”s acceptance of this and consequently it”s betrayal towards the “Rose”.
This also offers a paradox; the “Rose” is a traditional symbol of religious morals, for example, chastity, love, virtue, qualities that religion requires and encourages. Yet it is the church that is helping in the destruction of these qualities in the “Rose” and as a result makes it “Sick”. The “Rose” is representational of a young, innocent, inexperienced girl who is being tainted by this callous “Worm”. Blake presents the “Worm” as being so absolutely determined to “destroy” the “Rose” that it has acquired unnatural skills such as flying through a dark night and risking a “Howling storm”.
The technique of flying gives the worm an added advantage and renders the Rose even more vulnerable, as the worm is omnipresent and can see everything from its high position in the air, representing the government”s high position in England. Blake even represents the Worm”s tenacity in the continual enjambments of the poem: “O Rose, thou art sick. The invisible worm, That flies in the night In the howling stormâ€¦” In “London” and “Chimney”, Blake doesn”t hide his criticism in any symbols but openly condemns it.
The fact that a deeply religious man such as Blake could find fault with the church shows the extent of its abuse of power in the 18th century. In “Chimney”, his message to the church is that its continual acceptance of child abuse could destroy their faith. The paradox here lies in the fact that the child”s parents have neglected and forsaken their child to go and pray in the corrupted church and so they are blind to their own child”s inner damage which has reduced the child to “Crying” in public for help.
Blake even presents the Holy Trinity which is a figure of extreme importance in Christianity. But on my first reading of the poem I felt as though the child blames these religious figures for his anguish, “Who make up a heaven of our misery”, but now I understand that the child is challenging societies and his parents interpretation of what the Holy Trinity and religion as a whole signifies. In “London” Blake again warns the church that its actions “Appals” and that this is leading to it “Black”ning”.
Blake activates the words “Black” and “Appal” into present tense verbs, which gives them a larger implication because it shows it to be continuous and happening at that precise moment without a foreseeable end. This shows us that in 18th century England, the church”s disregard for society has left people in a state of religious decay. In the 3 poems, Blake examines people in an individual way. In “London”, Blake writes about a myriad of people, from old age to young, who make up the lower class of society.
He shows their depression to have reached such acute levels that they are now victims of their own minds and lifestyle. Blake also remarks that they are all marked with “Woe” and are identified by this inner torture. He represents this life to be an eternal cycle of suffering, starting with the “Blasted” infant to the “Youthful harlot” ,forced into prostitution due to the lack of opportunity presented to woman in Victorian England, whose cry “Plagues the marriage hearse” suggesting that the sanctity of marriage has been devalued.
Even the soldiers, who bled for their country, can only “Sigh” in the “Hapless” state they have been reduced to because their contribution to England has been ignored. So, in “London” Blake shows the universitality of this suffering that effect old and young alike, as opposed to “The Sick Rose” where the poem is specific to the Rose, which Blake personally addresses. This poem has the closest similarity to society today in the way that in society the powerful take advantage of and suppress the more defenceless.
Infact this theme has been explored in many books including “Of Mice and Men”, “An Inspector Calls” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” to name a few. In this poem, as in most situations, it is the decisions of the government and church that make these people defenceless. Something that deeply affected me in all three poems was the complete show of apathy with which society treated children in Victorian England. In “Chimney” the child is so devalued that it”s only recognised as “A little black thing” showing how de-personalised and de-humanised children were.
The fact that they are forced into such dangerous jobs at such young ages, such as being Chimney Sweepers, factory workers and servants to the wealthier class”s, was totally acceptable in that century, just as it was acceptable to have these young children of two or three years roam the streets alone. As in “The Sick Rose”, the child in “Chimney” has been mentally and physically abused and irrevocably corrupted and forced into adulthood. But what sickens me in “The Sick Rose” is that Blake says that this infliction of abuse is to the abuser a “Love” showing that the abuser actually enjoyed tormenting children.
It is only in “London” that Blake criticises the English monarchy which was the highest institution in Victorian England. His graphic metaphor of the “Hapless soldiers” distress running “In blood down palace walls” has two possible meanings: that it is the soldiers efforts, blood and sacrifices that have built the palace walls and kept them protected and that the monarchy have blood on their hands for their involvement in the recent Napoleonic wars. These are two very courageous statements which at the time could have seen Blake charged with treason or disloyalty but also serve to show the extent of Blake”s fury.
Last of all, I will be looking and the rhyme and rhythm in these poems. The most detectable rhythm is defiantly in “London”. In this poem there is a definite alternate rhythm: “I wander thro each charter”d Street Near where the charter”d Thames does flowâ€¦” This beat is like the sound of a war drum calling people to act on their indignation and is a call of insurrection. The rhythm is confident and determined, reflecting Blake”s unwavering and resolute stand on the government”s conduct.
Blake also uses alternate rhyme for example “Cry” and “Sigh” , “Hear” and “Tear”. These are the words which will linger with the reader and so their placement is powerful and makes them unforgettable. They are also mainly words of despair and are onomatopoeic making the reader feel the agony of these people. In “London” the rhyme and rhythm is plentiful and immediately perceptible, whereas in “The Chimney Sweeper” the rhythm is irregular and harder to detect which perhaps shows the instability of the child”s life although there is constant rhyme.
In the first stanza the rhyme is in couplets meaning every line and in stanza”s two and three the rhyme is alternate. This shows how the child”s life was ordinary to that of anyone his age but then suddenly changed and became unacceptably abnormal. In conclusion, these three poems offer us a deep insight into all aspects of 18th century England in individual yet decisive ways. In each one Blake is attempting to warn England that this cycle of abuse and hatred can only end wretchedly and violently, unless the church and government make an effort to help their people.