The poets William Wordsworth, 1770 – 1850, and William Blake, who lived from 1757 to 1827, are both vividly known for their portrayals of London through their poems. William Wordsworth is known partly for his views on London, which are shown through his poem: “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”; Blake, however, lived a much less orthodox life and was largely unrecognised throughout his life, yet he too produced a wide array of poems which expressed his view on the city such as: “London” and “Holy Thursday”.
Both poets wrote during the Romantic Era that is also known as Romanticism; this era encouraged poets to write referring to the natural world and the specific aspects, which it presented, writers were forced to focus on conveying a clear sense of feeling through their literature. The poem “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” was written by William Wordsworth on September 3rd, 1803 and is a highly controversial poem in which he is seen expressing his views on London.
It is clear from the outset and the title the mood in which Wordsworth is writing, “Composed” in the title contains a double meaning: to show that it has been written on Westminster Bridge, and the other meaning shows the “Composed” mood in which he was whilst writing and while he was looking over London; from this it is clear that Wordsworth was very open to how he would portray his view of London in the poem, and that he would be very calm through his expression.
William Wordsworth lived for the entirety of his life in the Lake District, thus, when he wrote the poem he was only visiting London and his expression and opinion of London was based on his feelings and the way that the experience contrasted from where he actually lived, consequently his expression may have been biased towards London in that he is blinded and sees only the good aspects: “touching in its majesty”; “beauty”; “bright and glittering”. Therefore, it can be said that the manner in which Wordsworth had described London was very limited in that he would only be able to see aspects that were non-existent where he had lived his life.
Furthermore, Wordsworth uses a large amount of hyperbole in order to express his views, this adds both expression and meaning to his views: “Earth has not any thing to shew more fair…. ” the use of hyperbole in this instance is even greater being the opening sentence, this shows the reader the strong feeling that Wordsworth has for London and through saying “not any thing” rather than the much more conventional “not anything” as a single word. This adds an even greater effect as splitting the word up to give a much longer and expressive feeling.
Wordsworth clearly repeatedly uses the technique of hyperbole in order to convey his expressions much more definitively and express his views on London much more convincingly to the reader. In addition, Wordsworth uses the technique of imagery in order to express the overall and outer look which he sees of London and to portray the London that he can see: “Now doth like a garment, wear the beauty of the morning”, he uses this technique to show the “beauty” of London that he sees and how the city is cloaked as though it were being worn.
The use of “garment” is also significant as this represent something being worn, generally people will wear items that they are proud of and that would associate them with beauty, thus showing how Wordsworth can only see this cover that London may be wearing and he is unable to see under the cover; whereas, this is strongly exposed by William Blake in the poem “London” as he lives much more in the centre on London.
However, the imagery that Wordsworth presents with his poem is very strong and gives a clear image of the beauty that he can see all around him: “the river glideth at his own sweet will”, expressing the purity which he can see in the city. Moreover, another effect which is clear throughout Wordsworth’s poems and one which he uses incredibly effectively is to use human features in order to describe what he is feeling and experiencing: “”never felt”, “never pass by a sight”, “mighty heart”.
The effect of describing what he sees with human characteristics is that it means that the imagery for the reader become much more telling and evident for them, due to the use of the personal features the reader is able to engage into the description and can share the same feelings as the reader as he tells the story, ergo, the use of personal and human characteristics is used as it enables Wordsworth to create a much more vivid image with the reader and allows them to interact with the description, thus Wordsworth can easily portray his views on London through his use of imagery.
In contrast, the poem “London” was written by William Blake and is a poem that is highly known due to Blake’s strong opinion of London that he very strongly portrays. “London” similar to “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” was written near the time of the industrial revolution where there were evident and drastic changes in lifestyles, William Blake had lived in the centre of London during these times and he experienced and saw the hardships that the people had to go through in their lives, this experience is clearly shown in his attitude and his concept of London which he has portrayed in his poem.
One key feature in Blake’s poem is the form in which he has written it: four precise stanzas in a constant ABAB rhyme scheme. The effect that Blake gives when he has written his poem like this is that his view of London is much simpler, and it is very clear; Blake sees London as a much more pernicious place than Wordsworth does “In every infant cry of fear”.
Blake is able to express his strong envy of the city very clearly through the form of the poem, as though each stanza shows a separate way in which London has become corrupted. Moreover, the use of the ABAB rhyme scheme also holds further importance to the way in which Blake has written the poem; with the rhyming it allows Blake to express his strong anger and grief much more easily: “Man… ban”, “fear…. hear”, “curse…. earse”, thus, the use of the rhyming scheme ensures that the reader is able to understand the grief which is expressed.
This is contrasting from the way in which Wordsworth has written “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” where Wordsworth has chosen to write his poem in a much more story-like way where he chooses to list all of his feelings: “The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers domes, theatres, and temple lie, Open unto the fields, and to the sky. Hence, showing the huge contrast in the ways in which the poets have written in different form in order to express their feelings and how they differ in the ways in which they portray London. In addition, one further feature which Blake has used to in order to portray London is the language and the repetition that he has used, he has managed to manipulate his phrases in such a way he is able to express London in a much more sinister light; one very dominant word which Blake has used often is “chartered”.
The word means to be controlled and to be ordered but the manner in which Blake has used the words make the reader perceive that London is a largely corrupt country which is being wholly controlled and restricted: “near where the chartered Thames does flow”, in this context Blake has used the word to describe the River Thames to be controlled and the way in which the river moves is restricted and controlled, this is further acknowledged when he says “wander through each charted street”.
This adds effect because it shows that Blake is seeing a London whereby everything is being controlled; the streets and what people are doing are being controlled and it is so bad to an extent whereby even the river, which should be free flowing, is being controlled.
Thus, the use of language that Blake has chosen to use clearly expresses the way in which London is becoming corrupt, however, this shows large contrast between the way in which Blake and Wordsworth express their views as Wordsworth says “The river glideth at its own sweet will”, this a pure contrast to Blake as Wordsworth is saying that the purity of the river is free flowing and the river expresses all of the goodness which London has, however, in “London” Blake uses the river to give an indication of how corrupt the country is becoming “Where the chartered Thames does flow”.
Therefore, this gives a clear idea to the extent at which Blake and Wordsworth have used language very differently in order to express and portray their views of London in “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” and “London”. Another poem, which portrays a very vivid image of London, is “Holy Thursday” which was written by William Blake, this poem also follows Blake’s pattern of portraying a negative image that was also shown in his other poem “London”.
In “Holy Thursday” one effect which William Blake has chosen use is thoroughly throughout the poem is the talk about the Church and of religious figures: “Grey headed beadles”, which has been used to represent the Vicars, not only has Blake brought the subject of the Church up but he also chosen to comment on the way in which the Church has become corrupt, which is a common theme in “London” also.
Blake talks about the people who are in control of the children who would be working at the liveried companies as “the aged men, wise guardians of the poor”, through this Blake is explaining that these people should be guardians to the poor, the children, and that they should “cherish pity”, look after the children and have pity for them. However, it is clear that Blake expresses that there is continuous sense that the children are “chartered” which is similar to the poem “London”.
In “London” Blake talks about “chartered street” and ” every infants cry of fear”, in “Holy Thursday” the children are forced to walk “two and two in red, blue and green”, showing clearly how the children are being ordered in the manner in which they walk into the Church and the manner in which they dress. Therefore, it is clear to see how Blake has portrayed the Church to be corrupt, whereby, the guardians are not looking after the children and how they are being controlled that is very similar to “London”.
Moreover, one similarity which is evident between “Holy Thursday” and “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” is that both Blake and Wordsworth have used the example of the river in order to show the purity that there is in London: “The river glideth at his own sweet will” shows how Wordsworth uses the river to exemplify the freedom which is London and what he sees in London, this is similar to Blake’s expression “into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames waters flow” which explains how natural the flow of the water is and how free and unrestricted that the should be, even though they are chartered, thus, showing how both writers have used the River to show the freedom that can be seen and the freedom that should be seen.
Furthermore, it is also clear that another manner in which Wordsworth and Blake use in order to portray London is similar however, to provide a contrasting effect; the use of techniques such as metaphors and similes are used by both writers in order for them to give their opinion and their view on London. In the poem: ‘Chimney Sweeper’ which is another example of a poem written by William Blake in order to express views on London, he uses the effect of metaphors to enable the reader to feel a sense of disgust and repulsion of London. In the poem, Blake uses this effect through saying “in soot I Sleep”, this metaphor is said to express Blake’s views on how the children are treated in the city and how they are forced to live; the children would be working as “Chimney Sweepers” and they would have to live in the soot for a great majority of their time as their job requires.
This can also be seen through “the angel told Tom”, showing the despise that Blake held for the managers of the children who were forced to work and how they made a mockery of religion. Similarly, Wordsworth uses the same technique however with different effect; in the poem “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” Wordsworth uses metaphors in order to express his view, in a parallel way to Blake even though to a different cause: “The Smokeless air”, Wordsworth uses this metaphor in order to show his attitude towards London, to express the beauty which it has and his love of the city, this can also be seen through “The mighty is lying still! “. A metaphor is used in this instance to enable Wordsworth to show his feelings; this is very similar to the way Blake had said “in soot I sleep”.
Therefore it is clear that one similarity can be found in the way in which Blake and Wordsworth portray London is their use of such techniques as metaphors and similes. In addition, William Blake is found to using different techniques in order to portray London in the poem: “Holy Thursday”. In this poem, it is clear that a route that has been taken in order to express his portrayal of London is purely through the text that Blake writes. A common idea throughout his writing is that he refers to London’s beauty being ruined, and linking this idea to a flower, whereby, the flower is a representation of London. In the poem “Holy Thursday”, Blake has written that: ‘these flowers of London town! ‘, this is referring to the children of London.
Blake uses flowers as a representation and as a symbol of the children as flowers are something which people are able to control and are able to force, thus it can be inferred from this that the children are being controlled in the way which they grow and the way in which they live; this is similar to a flower, where one can choose how they want it to grow and Blake is using this technique of symbols in his text to show how the children are also being controlled and are also being restricted, in a similar way that a plant would. This is also very similar to the way in which William Wordsworth portrays London, even though with a different meaning and purpose. In the poem “Composed upon Westminster bridge”, he has written that ‘a sight so touching… up unto the fields and the sky’. In this instance, Wordsworth has represented London as ‘a sight so touching’, whereby he is saying that this carries on through the ‘fields and the sky’.
A ‘field’ and a ‘sky’ are both seen and often referred to as places which have a sense of endlessness, thus Wordsworth writes in a way whereby he is saying that the beauty which London holds in ever going and has no end. Therefore, this can also be seen as a way that is also similar in the way that London is being portrayed through their poems with their use of representations and symbols. In addition, one further way in which Blake is able to portray London through his poem is by using the technique of changing the tone in which he writes in the poem: “The Sick Rose”. In “the Sick Rose”, it is evident that after the second line through to the end, Blake has changed the tone in which he writes.
The tone in which Blake writes after the second line is in grief; ‘has found out thy bed of crimson joy; and his dark secret love’, by introducing a the tone of grief, William Blake is able to change the mood of the poem and he is able to manipulate the way in which the reader views what is written: ‘in the howling storm’, this would normally be seen as a normal line as something which is regular as a storm is bound to make ‘howling noises’, however, by introducing the tone of grief, Blake is able to make the line seem much more sinister and much more evil than normally would be associated with it. This use of tone can be compared to way in which Wordsworth has written in the poem: ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’, in this poem Wordsworth has written with a much more peaceful tone and with a tone which is much more pleasant than that used by Blake, it is written: ‘All bright and glittering’, through using this tone, he is creating a sense of much more peace and subtleness.
Through writing in a tone with more peacefulness, Wordsworth is able to somewhat ‘sugar-coat’ his portrayal of London: ‘never felt, a calm so deep! ‘, with the tone and the description, he is able to make the poem seem a lot more positive than it would normally be seen, this contrasts from the tone which is used by Blake of grief: ‘and his dark secret love, does his life destroy’ with this tone, Blake is able to portray a much more negative view whereas Wordsworth uses the effect of changing the tone to create a much more positive portrayal. It can be seen very clearly through the various poems that have been written by William Blake and by William Wordsworth that there have been several different ways in which the portrayal of London has been given.
Blake has generally chosen to give a much more bleak portrayal through varying the manner in which he has changed the imagery which he presents to the reader and the rhyme scheme and the language that he has used; this is similar to the way in which William Wordsworth has written whereby he had also used these techniques along with the ability to change the tone in which he writes in order to give a portrayal which has a much more positive outlook, he has been able to pick the metaphors he uses and is also able to select the type of punctuation he can include such as his uses of enjambment. Thus is clear that throughout the pieces of work that have been by Wordsworth and Blake, there has been a wide array of different ways in which London has been portrayed.