Subject Material

London - William Blake

Why do you think William Blake's work and life have been a source of inspiration for generations of dissenters and protestors for more than two centuries?

William Blake
 

William Blake (1757 – 1827) was an English artist and poet heavily influenced by the ideas of the Romantic Period. His poetry and numerous etchings, engravings and paintings reveal his preoccupation with Nature, ancient mythology and Christian mysticism. The French and American Revolutions inspired his commitment to equality issues. A different kind of revolution, the Industrial Revolution swept over his home country throughout Blake’s lifetime and exposed many children in particular to suffer in factories, mines and as chimney sweepers.

In his most famous work, Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794), the point of view in the first part is assigned to the innocent, the child that has not yet learned about envy and hatred. Blake was born and bred in London. The poem “London” is from Songs of  Innocence and Experience and reflects his concern for the victims of the Industrial Revolution. As many of his fellow citizens, Blake died as a pauper and his family had to borrow money to bury him. He gained his fame posthumously, and over the years he has been acclaimed as a spiritual leader for dissenter movements, including the Hippies and political left-wing parties. His tombstone in the original Dissenter’s graveyard in Finsbury, London, is visited by admirers from all over the world.

London (William Blake)

London - William BlakeLondon - William Blake

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackening church appalls,
And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

Study the poem from BBC’s
GCSE Bitesize.

1. Read here about the author William Blake 

2. Watch the slideshow while you listen to the poem. Then go on studying the subject matter of the poem. slideshow (Right-click on the link and choose open in new window.)

3. Then go on revising the structure and language of the poem.

4. Study the attitudes and values expressed in the poem.

Tasks

1. Answer the sample question and study BBC’s sample answers.
Sample question as a basis for an essay.
2. “London” contains a lot of words with negative connotations. Make a list of negative words found in the poem and compare it with the rap lyrics “Changes” by Tupac Shakur.
3. Compare the attitudes and values expressed in “London” and “Changes”.

 

I Want! I Want!I Want! I Want!

 

Discuss

Look at Blake’s illustration. What do you think he wants to convey?
I Want! I Want! W. Blake, 1793

Writing

Write an essay where you share your thoughts on the illustration. Is this illustration just as relevant today? What does it reveal about human nature - if anything? (Suggested length: 400 words)

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