William Blake’s “London” is a clear indictment of the contemporary materialistic and industrial society. Blake has severely criticized the evils of English society. Firstly. he has shown the apathetic or callous attitude of society towards the chimney sweepers who have led a miserable life. Secondly, he has demonstrated the adversities of war as expressed in the plight of the soldiers. Thirdly and lastly, he has exhibited sexual perversion or distortion which poses a serious threat to the holy institution of marriage and the blissful life of the offsprings. Blake has strongly denounced the malpractices and corruptions of English life and society in these respects. Blake’s satiric attack on London’s life bears a striking resemblance to T.S. Eliot’s virulent satire on the deterioration of the social, economic, and cultural life of London in the poems. Preludes, The Hollow Men, and The Wasteland.
“London” by Blake is a poem of protest. Here the poet has strongly revolted against the corruptions, malpractices of English society. The poem has faithfully portrayed the ennui, weariness, pessimism, corruption of London society. He is of the view that London society is not only ethically corrupted, it is also sexually debased and contaminated. The poem is a biting satire on the prevailing ills of London society. The very foundation of London society is very weak and fragile because the values and ethics on which this society is reliable are rotten and degraded. The poet is severely critical of the comprehensive degeneration that has set in upon English society.
In England Blake’s London is certainly the principal city. There each street is chartered, clearly defined, and, like the chartered Themes, limited and confined by its definition. Every face in this London is chartered marked by the same lack of scope and the same misery and woe because of it. But this chartered quality is not only due to ‘social comedians’, but, as Blake says,
“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.”
‘Mind-forged’ is the important phrase here. Each individual is chained as much by its own psychological predisposition as by social injustice. The interdependent misery of the inhabitants of this London is most forcefully expressed in the poem’s concluding stanza. It is important that the ‘harlot’ is youthful for it suggests that the new-born infant is itself not so far from the condition of the whore. Her curse is not only what she shouts against society, but the disease she is certain to succumb to. And this disease is not referred to show how dreadful the fate of the harlot is, but because it is effective and destructively so towards the new-born infant’s generation- it is blasted-and the marriages too are infected. Not only symbólically is the marriage care a hearse. The misery of these Londoners is not simply displeasure or discomfort, It is death following disease, a disease which cannot be cured because it is neither acknowledged socially nor understood to be fundamental to society’s disabilities. The mind-fogged manacles are the more effective for not being recognized.
Blake’s tragic appreciation of the restrictions which imprison and kill the living spirit was no purely personal thing. It was this criticism of society and the whole trend of contemporary civilization. His compassionate heart was outraged and wounded by the sufferings which society inflicts on its humbler members and by the waste of human material which seems indispensable to the efficient operation of rules and laws. In ‘London‘ he gives his own view of that ‘chartered liberty’ on which his countrymen prided themselves and exposes the indisputable ugly facts.