Blake wrote the poem ‘London’ as a first-person narrative that delves deep into the melancholy aspects of pain and woe that plagued the city at the time. Through the use of language, narrative, metaphors and rhyme schemes, Blake presents and extreme abuse of power that enslaves London’s society.
As Blake starts the poem describing the narrator's ‘wonder through each chartered street’ and the sight of the ‘chartered Thames’, he repeats the word ‘chartered’ as a bitter reference to the way that every aspect of London is owned and controlled. This emphasizes a real abuse of power in the fact that the authority and rich leaders of London are so corrupt that they feel the need to boost their power and gain absolute control over everything ; even the river which is usually a symbol of life and freedom, has been captured and possessed. This presents a large abuse of power when it suggests the need to control everything as it shows the obsession with power and how the leaders have taken something belonging to nature, and have controlled it as one of their own possessions as if it were a trophy.
For Blake, buildings, especially church buildings, often symbolised confinement, restriction and failure. In this poem, the lines "the Chimney-sweeper's cry / Every blackening church appals"provide an association which reveals the speaker's attitude. Money is spent on church buildings while children live in poverty, forced to clean chimneys - the soot from which blackens the church walls. To Blake, this makes a mockery of the love and care that should characterise the Christian religion. The "blackening" church walls are also linked to the running of "blood down Palace walls". The speaker is perhaps arguing that, unless conditions change, the people will be forced to revolt. The poem as a whole suggests Blake sees the rapid urbanisation in Britain at the time as a dangerous force.
As Blake continues his narrator’s journeys and tells the reader of “the Chimney-sweepers’ cry”, he is emphasising that children are no longer free to enjoy childhood; instead working in dangerous conditions that are life-threatening and terrifying. Blake uses this line to create a sense of empathy within the reader that allows them to connect to the chimney-sweepers, whether it’s younger readers recognising this is what they would be doing in those times, or older readers recognising that it would be their own children endangering themselves daily in those times, and this lets them become aware of the frightening things the children had to do in those times. This represents a large abuse of power through the fact that authority are aware of the large amount of power and control that they have that means they can use children as a means of labour, and the people of London are so succumbing to the force of the government that they cannot stand up and resist the power and give their own children freedom.
Blake uses a lot of sounds throughout ‘London’ to give an impact on the reader. There is the "cry of fear", the sigh of a soldier "Runs in blood down Palace walls" and newborn infants are blasted. There are cries, the sound of "mind-forg'd manacles" and curses. These sounds are all the result of anguish and pain, caused by conditions in the city. To start with, the narrator notices pain “In every cry of every Man, In every Infants cry of fear”. Through this use of repetition and empathy, Blake presents that their is not only an abuse of power and a sense of pain and anguish in London, but the lines connote that there are universal problems, everyone's suffering. Not just problems happening in London but everywhere in the world. Which makes everyone seem powerless. The use of repetition of ''every'' emphasises the lack of hope for the future. The narrator then tells us how he can hear “the hapless Soldiers sigh” as it “Runs in blood down Palace walls”. This use of empathy and sound creates an atmospheric feeling of despair and hopelessness. The soldiers have been put through pain and death for their country due to power of authority, but the monarchy is either unaware of their suffering, which is unlikely, or they simply do not care about the soldiers patriotic sacrifice. As with all the other pain and misery throughout the country, the people in power just put up walls and ignore the misery that needs to be addressed. This shows an abuse of power as they only use their power to do things they want done and things that help them, however ignore and block out the use of power to help the people of their country. In the first three lines of stanza two, the speaker makes it clear that "every" sound he hears is evidence of the "mind-forged manacles" . Manacles are like handcuffs. The speaker is suggesting that people's minds are restricted and confined - that the city has abused their power and robbed the people of the ability to think.
The poem is full of negative language, which reveals the speaker's attitude to the city. There are several references to violence, suggesting the speaker views the city as a danger to all who inhabit it. The speaker makes reference to the dirty conditions, which spoil everything, from churches to children. The city itself presented as a place where the usual morality is ignored, with negative consequences. Prostitution, which is prevalent, is seen as damaging the future of the family, both physically and spiritually. Even the ABAB Iambic pentameter rhyme scheme is a controlled scheme that presents monotony and regularity.
Overall, Blake uses many language techniques to create an extreme effect of being contained and regulated and Blake shows the extreme pain, anguish and misery that was caused by the huge abuse of power in the city that ruined people's lives and caused nothing but melancholy depression and woe.