“Each Chartered streets” and “chartered Thames”
—> Chartered implies how all of London is owned by the rich, even the landscapes themselves compared to the poor who are surrounded
‘And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’
—> creates a melancholy, emotive tone which adds another dimension to the overwhelming, authoritarian city that Blake portrays London to be in this first stanza.
- The ‘marks’ in the faces of those the speaker sees could be physical or psychological scarring either from the effects of the disease and crime-ridden city streets or the apparent oppressive, authoritarian regime.
- The repetition of the clause in the first stanza’s final line is syntactic parallelism, employed by Blake to add emphasise the extent of the visible suffering evident on 18th century London’s busy streets.
“In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,”
—> The second stanza focuses more closely on the population and its suffering - dramatically heightening the poem’s already personal, emotive tone. The repetition of ‘in every’ is anaphora which highlights the widespread nature of the suffering, afflicting everyone from infants to fully-grown men. The repetition also emphasises the bleakness and despair that everyone felt.
“The mind-forg’d manacles I hear”
—> Manacles’ are basically old-fashioned handcuffs, used for fastening a prisoner’s hands or feet.
—>The imagery of these being ‘mind-forg’d’ signifies the psychological imprisonment the population is subject to from the state, restricting their free-will.
“ How the Chimney-sweepers cry”
—> The ‘Chimney-sweepers’ are a symbol of poverty and exploitation of working-class children (often orphans in the care of the church) by the upper classes during the Georgian and Victorian periods in Britain.
—> Boys as young as four were trained to climb chimneys and begin work. Work which was extremely dangerous, with the potential to get stuck in the chimney or suffocate or burn to death.
—>The suffering of children as young as this in conditions so terrible is a poignant reminder of the suffering endured at the time.
“Every black’ning Church appalls,”
—> Churches are traditionally a symbol of religion, holiness and divinity in literature. However, Blake juxtaposes this symbolism with the imagery ‘blackning Church’ which suggests impurity and corruption.
—> This is significant as, in Blake’s eyes; the church has failed in its duty to protect the orphans in its care that were picked out to become chimney sweepers. Consequently, the blood of such children is on the church’s hands, so to speak, and this appals Blake.
“But most thro’ midnight streets I hear”
—> Midnight’ acts as a pathetic fallacy for the human emotion of fear. It is a time of deepest darkness, when the sky is pitch black, which is a symbol of danger and vulnerability, even death.
—>This, once again, intensifies the sense of menace of the surrounding London streets as well as the sinister nature of the poem’s tone.
“How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear”
—> The adjective ‘youthful’ links to the ‘chimney sweeper’ in the third stanza, both sharing the theme of exploitation and injustice to the youth in society, who have, in particular, been failed by the environment of 18th century London that they grew up in.
—>The image of her cursing illustrates her state of despair, which Blake goes on to describe as being directed at the tears of a new-born baby. It’s a deeply troublesome image - the torment of one of society’s most vulnerable and emotionally damaged members being channelled towards an innocent, defenceless newborn. These two lines powerfully encapsulate the anguish present in society and its failings to protect its more vulnerable members.
4 quatrains with ABAB rhyme scheme
- repetitive structure, reflecting on the relentless and overwhelming suffering of citizens on a daily basis
- stanzas present a cyclical nature as they swap between those who suffer and the causes of suffering
good old context
—> Chartering: Chartering was an 18th-century process of corporate ownership, effectively transferring public land to private hands. Blake’s readers would quickly have recognised the political implications of the word. Supporters of chartering claimed that it gave people rights over the land. Those against claimed that it took rights away from the many in order to give them to the few. The English-born, American writer and revolutionary, Tom Paine, declared: ‘Every chartered town is an aristocratical monopoly in itself.’ He felt strongly that chartering was anti-democratic and unnatural.
—> Child exploitation: Exacerbated by the Industrial Revolution, Poverty was rife in Blake’s London, but the condition of the poor and their children was beginning to receive more attention from social reformers. Improvements in hygiene and medical knowledge had led to increased life expectancy, but the rise in the population, poor harvests and war created serious hardships. Orphans and the illegitimate children of the poor could be sold into apprenticeships that offered meagre prospects; young boys were used to sweep chimneys (by scrambling up as ‘climbing-boys’); prostitution and dire housing conditions were continuing problems. Some philanthropic initiatives attempted to address these issues, but asylums and charity schools were often linked to the exploitative apprenticeship system. Blake’s distain for exploitative child labour is apparent in his dramatic monologue, ‘The Chimney Sweeper.’
Venereal disease: Sexually transmitted diseases were rampant in 18th century London. In 1748, Lock Hospital, a specialist hospital for the pox (syphilis), opened its doors. Blake uses the term ‘harlot’s curse’ euphemistically to refer to the spread of syphilis through commercial sex transactions. Through the juxtaposition of ‘marriage hearse’ he then alludes the way extra-marital relations further spread syphilis – with men often transmitting the disease and then passing it on to their oblivious new wives, who then congenitally passing it on to their children during pregnancy.