Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Dark Side of “London”

     Have you ever wondered how poets can make a reader feel a certain emotion? Poets possess the power to create an emotion by implementing literary devices into their poetry. In the poem “London,” by William Blake, Blake expresses his solemn thoughts of the city of London. Blake captures the city’s gravity in the poem “London” through diction, figurative language, and rhyme scheme.
            Starting with the first stanza, Blake sets the tone by the use of diction. The speaker says, “And mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe” (3-4). When he uses the words ‘in every face,’ Blake is making a generalization. He does this to set the somber tone. By making this generalization, Blake allows the reader to feel the vastness of the emotional torment being felt throughout the city. He could have written how only the faces he met or a certain few were marked with sadness or woe, but he chose to say ‘in every face’ to show the immensity. In the second stanza, Blake continues to repeat the words ‘in every cry.’ The second stanza reads:
            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: (5-8)
Again, he repeats the words ‘in every’ to emphasize each person’s cry, voice, or ban that makes London melancholy as a whole.
            Also in the second stanza, when the speaker states, “…in every ban / The mind-forg’d manacles I hear” (7-8), Blake is using figurative language to encapsulate the sad oppression the citizens feel. These two lines in the poem convey a deeper meaning and the manacles are a symbol for the restrictions we create for ourselves. Blake’s use of the word ban is not limited to one meaning. Ban can be interpreted as a “…political and legal prohibition, curse, [or] public condemnation” (Print). Although the speaker verbalizes that they can hear the manacles, it is not actually possible. Not to mention, it has been said that “Blake crafts many of his textual details to be heard. [He]…uses words with auditory insinuations” (Web). Society does not literally put shackles and chains on the human mind, but with every ban people create their own handcuffs or restrictions. In the third stanza, Blake uses more figurative language when he writes, “And the hapless Soldier’s sigh / Runs in blood down Palace walls” (11-12). Once again, the soldier’s sigh is not blood running down the palace walls, but a figurative meaning. This nonliteral meaning illustrates the sad fact that the soldier sheds his blood protecting the palace walls that he is not even allowed to set foot in.
            Not only are the words what create the somber tone, but the rhyme scheme as well. The poem follows a rhyme scheme where the last word in each line rhymes with every other word in that respective stanza. When read, the poem gives a serious, drone, continuous feeling that matches what the poem suggests. The repetition of the rhythm pulses just as a heart does, and can be interpreted as the heartbeat of the city. The heart beats slow and monotonously because it is sad, heavy, and weary. The weakness, woe, and mind-forged manacles are all reasons as to why the citizens of London would feel this way.
            Blake may or may not have used diction, figurative language, and rhyme scheme intentionally in “London” to enable the reader to feel a certain way, but he was successful in doing so. Through these literary devices Blake allows the reader to feel what the citizens of London felt. Leave it to a poet to let you feel what you read.

Works Cited
Graves, Roy Neil. "Blake's London." The Explicator 63.3 (2005): 131+. Literature

Resource Center. 15 Sept. 2010. Web.

"William Blake." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt.

New York, NY. Norton, 2006. 94+. Print.

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