The Songs of Experience – Explication of London
William Blake published, in 1794, a collection of poems entitled The Songs of Experience. This collection works in collaboration with an earlier collection of the author’s poems called The Songs of Innocence. The works of 1794 bring to the reader a more realistic or even pessimistic view of the author’s native England, in comparison to the poems in The Songs of Innocence. One of the works in the more realistic collection is simply titled “London.” In this work Blake gives a concise critique of the city that shares its name with the title as the speaker moves among the suffering people of that city. The poem condemns the condition of the city and its people. Blake questions the economic structure, and the extent of the government’s control over the people in England. He goes on to challenge the church and its role in society. The poem concludes with a charge that the moral degradation of London is coming into plain sight in the form of physically impaired children.
The first stanza of the work functions as a thesis. Here the author plays with the word “Charter’d” (ln.1 & ln.2). The meanings vary in the dictionary, but all pertain to Blake’s use of the word. “Charter’d” is the condition of not only the streets of London but also of the city’s greatest asset, the Thames River. While chartered might mean liberated, in the tone of this work it more likely means “rented out.” In this way Blake challenges the economic system of his homeland. Also, in this double meaning, the reader can see irony in that the phrase might scoff at the idea of the people of England considering themselves liberated. The second half of the first stanza tells us …
…ed by the harlot. Another idea to consider is Blake’s personal feelings about societal institutions. Above we asserted that societies rules could shackle a person’s mind, so to keep with that idea we could assert that “the marriage hearse” may tell us how Blake personally feels about the institution of marriage.
This work is an open commentary on the situation of the city of London. Blake calls into question some of the basic practices of the city’s people, and government. The work moves through the streets and calls to the reader’s attention the different ways in which the people suffer. It accuses the government of controlling the minds of people, and the exploitation of its soldiers. It accuses the church of neglecting the needy, and finally it accuses the people themselves of poisoning their own children through their immoral acts.