William Blake: ‘London’ – Mr Bruff Analysis


Hello everybody and welcome to this video
where I’m going to analyse the poem ‘London’ by William Blake. Everything that I go through
in this video can be found in my guide to ‘My Last Duchess’ and other poems, available
for £3.99 at So, why not pick up a copy and, then, you won’t have to write
all of this down as you’re watching the video. So, as always, we start off with the poet
William Blake. And we’re looking for details that help us to understand the poem ‘London’
and not just any old detail about the poet. So let me give you some important facts. Blake
was born in 1757 in London, where he actually lived for almost his entire life. And this
gives the strong impression that the ‘I’ in the poem walking through the streets of
London is Blake himself writing from his own experience. He was a poet, a painter, and
a printmaker. He had an interesting relationship with religion.
He respected the Bible. He thought of himself as a Christian. He believed in Jesus and God.
But he disliked organised religion such as the Church of England. In 1800, he moved from London to the village
of Felpham, but he returned in 1804, where he, then, carried on living in London until
his death in 1827. He often wrote about rebelling against the misuse of power and class, and
that’s obviously something that is really important in this poem in terms of the cluster
of poetry you’re studying. A little bit about the publishing context,
‘London’ comes from Blake’s collection ‘Songs of Experience’, 1794. Now, this
collection was a companion piece to the earlier ‘Songs of Innocence’ in 1789. But as soon
as ‘Songs of Experience’ was published– The two were always published together, as
you see on the screen here in one volume. And the two were supposed to be seen as a
sort of companion piece to each other. ‘Songs of Innocence’ focuses on simple moral lessons
for children to learn, with poems often focusing on nature. But ‘Songs of Experience’ focuses
on a much harsher view of a world corrupted by humans. And in terms of the power and conflict cluster,
‘London’ coming from ‘Songs of Experience’ can be seen as a critique of human power,
exposing the distance between those in power and those who are suffering. And the suffering
is inescapable because of the misuse of power by those in control. So that’s the kind of
angle this poem takes in terms of the context of the cluster it comes from. A little bit on the historical context about
industrialisation. So when Blake was born, the population of London was around 760,000.
Only a hundred years later, it was over three million. And one of the major influences for
the rise in population was the Industrial Revolution. And this was something that Blake
was really against. The Industrial Revolution began in around
1760 and, to put it simply, it just marked a shift from country life to city life. Machines
were invented which could complete work quicker than humans had done in the past. And this
brought about big changes in agriculture, in manufacturing, and transport. Industrial
factories were created, and conditions in those were often terrible. So, for example, children as young as five
or six would be made to work in them because they were so small they could get in and around
the machinery easily. And there were often six-year-olds who would work 19 hours a day
in these factories. So if you think your exam workload is pretty high, imagine being a six-year-old
in this timeframe. And London just became a smoke-ridden city.
Nature was being ruined, it was felt. And the Industrial Revolution just sort of filled
the air with smog and smoke. And this is one of the important contextual factors explored
in Blake’s poem. Let’s have a quick look at the poem. It’s
not too difficult, but I’ll give you a reading and a simple translation.
I wander through each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
So our first-person speaker is telling us, ‘I walk through the streets of London near
the River Thames. And in the faces of everybody that I meet, I see signs of weakness and unhappiness.’ In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear, In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear So this is really saying, ‘Every sound I
hear, whether it’s the cry of a man, the cry of a child, in every voice, I realise people
are trapped in every way. Mentally as well as physically.’ How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church of appals, And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls So this is a stanza I’ll explore in a second.
But, really, it’s just saying ‘the distress of these people ruins this place’. But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse So, ‘what I hear the most at night when
I’m walking around is the sound of young prostitutes swearing. And that ruins the innocence of
newly born babies who hear that swearing, and it makes something that should be good
so bad.’ Now I’m going to talk to you about language
and structure. Structure points tend to be the least written about, so I’m going to give
you a few ideas here. There are all on the screen. The first thing I want to talk about, then,
is the repetitive structure. So the poem is written entirely in quatrains, which is stanzas
of four lines each. And the rhyme scheme is ABAB. So the first line rhymes with the third,
and the second with the fourth. Now repetition is a key point in this poem.
So we can see the repetitive stanza structure and the repetitive rhyme scheme, reflecting
the relentless, repetitive, and overwhelming suffering in the city. And there’s also repetition
of words, which you can see colour-coded on the actual poem itself here. So it’s not just the repetitive rhyme scheme,
the repetitive quatrains, there are actually lots of words repeated. And this is something
that Blake does, not just in this poem but in a lot of his poetry. But in ‘London’,
we see the repetition of ‘charter’d’ twice, ‘mark’ three times, and ‘every’
three times. Now, each of these can be and will be, in
this video, analysed separately. But on a simple note, the repetition of words, like
the repetition of stanza structure and the repetition of rhyme scheme, reflects how the
life of suffering is repetitive and inescapable. There’s no relief from it. There’s no let-up
because it’s a result of the choices of those in positions of power, who are the only people
who could do something about it. And we’ll talk about that in a second.
As we see on the left here, the whole text structure is also significant. Stanzas one
and two focus on the people who are suffering. Stanza three explores the causes of the suffering.
And we’ll look at those in a second, but it highlights the church, industrialisation,
landowners, and the monarchy and the government. The final stanza, though, returns to the focus
of those who are suffering again. So, by ending with the same topic as the poem began with,
the poet is implementing a cyclical, repetitive structure which, once again, highlights the
inescapable fate of those in the city. It goes round in circles. Just when you think
you’ve got to the end, you’re back at the beginning again. But not everything follows a strict structural
pattern in this poem. If we have a look at the use of metre, have a look at this:
I wander through each chartered street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow
Now, most of the poem is written in iambic tetrameter. This means lines of eight syllables
with alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. You can see the ones in bold are the ones
we stress, that we put emphasis on when we’re reading. The repetition of this metre, then, we could
say, “Well, that’s another example of the repetitive, inescapable life that poor people
in London have.” But not everything is written in this metre. Some lines contain seven syllables.
So, one example of that is this line, line four:
‘marks of weakness, marks of woe.’ Now, in a line that is pointing out the weakness
of those who are suffering, the line itself is weak in its syllable count. It contains
less than the previous lines. Its lesser than them. It’s weaker than them. So Blake is weakening
the line here to reflect the weakness of those who are suffering. And you can use your own time to look for
other occasions where there’s only seven syllables in a line, and consider why they are important.
Leave a comment in the comment section. I love looking at the analyses you guys pick
out. So those are my points on structure. Now when it comes to language, it’s kind of
interesting how you look at this poem. Because if you just look at the poem and look at the
imagery of suffering – and I’ve highlighted a lot of it in red here – much of the poem
presents the suffering – we could call it conflict, couldn’t we? For the power and conflict
cluster – of the people in London: ‘Marks of weakness’, ‘marks of woe’, the ‘cry
of every Man’, the ‘cry of fear’, the ‘mind-forg’d manacles’, ‘the Chimney-sweepers
cry’, ‘the hapless Soldiers sigh’, ‘the youthful Harlots curse’, ‘the new-born
Infants tear’, the ‘blights with plagues’. There’s this overwhelmingly long list of negative
language, which you could analyse one by one or cumulatively. You could say the overwhelming
effect of so much of it is the same as all of the structural features I’ve talked about,
that it just overwhelms you and reflects how overwhelmed those suffering are. But I want to look at the causes of these
problems. Because, as a poem centred on power, it’s not enough to just write about the problems,
like the cries, the marks, the plagues, the curses. We’ve got to think about what they’re
caused by. And what they’re caused by are those in power. So let’s have a look first at the word ‘charter’d’
which appears twice. Now the first draft of Blake’s poem did not contain this word. Originally,
the poem described a dirty street. It was changed to ‘charter’d’. So the fact
that it was changed from a different word and the fact that it’s repeated twice in the
first two lines means we really need to think carefully about it. Unfortunately, it’s a word that we, perhaps,
don’t have a lot of understanding of today. So, a little bit of context. Between 1760
and 1820, a lot of the land of England, around six million acres, was taken into private
ownership. Land that was, at one point, seen as public land was given ownership. And a
charter was a document issued by a government or political official that granted certain
rights or privileges; the documents that stated who owned what, in this case.
Now, the creation and management of those charters made profit for bankers and merchants.
It made a lot of people rich. And it also was something that wound people like Blake
up. So, much of his early poetry to do with nature, suddenly the nature is owned. Somebody
owns it and designates who can go in it and all of that kind of thing. It becomes a business
the sort of ‘businessification’ – as a creator, a word there – of the natural
world. So the first usage of ‘charter’d’ refers
to the fact that the properties around the speaker are privately owned. And it’s a
criticism of that. But the repetition of ‘charter’d’ then talks about the ‘charter’d Thames’.
And we’re talking here about the River Thames, and we’re seeing an interesting image of the
forcing of human power and control onto something natural, a river. There is, as we see in lots of poems in this
cluster, a sort of contrast, a juxtaposition of the power of nature and the supposed power
of man. Man would seek to charter, to control and organise everything. Even something as
uncontrollable and natural as the River Thames. So the second use of the word ‘charter’d’,
it can be seen as a satirical attack of the obsession with property rights and, as an
extension of that, human power and control. The irony pointed out by Blake is that a river
cannot really be controlled by the passing of a law. And Blake is writing ironically
of the ‘charter’d Thames’. So, one of the causes of suffering is the
misuse of power through the chartering of each ‘charter’d street’ and the ‘charter’d
Thames’ which saw the rich getting richer, the poor being more heavily controlled and
governed, and it widens the gap between the poor and those in power. And all of that from
the word ‘charter’d’. Now stanza one also contains another example
of repetition: ‘And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’ Now, if you think about it, whenever a poet
chooses to repeat something, a bit like with Ted Hughes’ ‘Bayonet Charge’ with the
repetition of ‘raw’ in the first stanza, it’s to really hammer home the importance
of it. So what can we think about these words? Well, they’ve actually got two different
meanings. The first example is ‘mark in every face I meet’ meaning ‘notice every
face’. And, then, we move to ‘marks of weakness, marks of woe’ meaning ‘signs
of weakness, signs of woe’. So the same word is used, but now with a different
meaning. Why is that? Well, as I’ve already pointed out, the repetition highlights the
inescapable, repetitive suffering of those in the poem. But the use of a word with changing
meanings could also reflect the poet’s frustration at the changing nature of London, again, at
the hands of those in power. Clearly, Blake did not agree with these changes.
Shortly after this poem was published, he left London, albeit just for a few short years.
Now the repetition in stanza 2 of ‘in every’, so I want to think about how this is the most
numerous example of repetition in the poem. ‘In every… In every… In every…’,
it builds up to the final line in the stanza, which is ‘the mind-forg’d manacles I hear’.
So the speaker, when he hears these cries, what he hears in the cries and voices is the
mind-forged manacles. Now what does this mean? Blake is imagining the mind as a forge. A
forge is a sort of blacksmith’s workshop where they would make something like these manacles,
which are kind of like handcuffs. Now for readers at the time, the poem was,
of course, going to have a different effect than it does for us now. And, at the time,
this image would have been a very shocking one because readers would have seen manacles
on criminals and would have viewed them with horror. But the manacles are also a link to
the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote, in 1762, ‘Man is born free, but
everywhere he is in chains.’ Now, what is this about? It’s quite complex,
really, but Blake is agreeing with Rousseau. So his line about the mind-forged manacles
is an intertextual reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and he’s talking about the fact
that man’s lack of freedom – his manacles, his chains, his handcuffs – are mind forged.
They come from the ideas and outlook imposed on us by external authority. And that external
Authority is the government of charters, as we’ve seen. But other places too. So, we see
other examples of, where does this mind-forged manacle come from? Who influences us to think
this way? Just a quick mention about the fact, as well,
that we see the reference to the ‘chimney-sweepers cry’, and this, then, ties in with the ‘every
black’ning church appalls’. Now, this image can be read in literal and
metaphorical terms. On the simple literal level, the church building is literally blackening
with smoke from the chimneys of the Industrial Revolution. And we can read this as a criticism
of the Industrial Revolution, as if it is blackening the church, as if it is stopping
and polluting what is morally good as symbolised by the church. And we see that through the
reference to the chimney sweeper as well, which is a reference to the child workers
I’ve already mentioned. But on a metaphorical level, the blackening
church can be seen as a criticism through colour imagery. Black symbolises evil, and
therefore, in turn, it represents bad. So the church is an organisation which should
help the poor, is blackened metaphorically with shame at its failure to give that help. Remember, Blake loved the Bible, Jesus, and
God, but he disliked the church. And the chimney-sweepers cry is appalling the church. it’s shaming
them because they should be helping those in need. There’s a play on words with the
use of ‘appall’ here too, because appall means to go pale, as in to go pale with fear.
But the churches are going black with smoke and soot. So there’s a contradiction, a sort
of juxtaposition of the two opposites together, showing how both shouldn’t be able to exist
together. If there’s poverty in the world, the church is not doing its job properly.
All of this suffering that the speaker sees in the streets of London, he feels, is a sign
that the church is not doing what it should be doing. But, of course, so far the poet or the speaker
has blamed the suffering on those in power, in the church, in the government. But there
are other images as well. One of those to look at is the idea of:
‘the hapless soldier’s sigh Runs in blood down palace walls’
Now, to understand this image, we need to know a little bit about the French Revolution.
The French Revolution was influenced by the Enlightenment, with its overthrow of the monarchy
in striving for political freedom. A lot of people supported it. All of the poets you’re
studying in this cluster supported the French Revolution to begin with. But it devolved
into bloodshed and chaos, bringing home the evil of mankind, and it lost the support there. And there was so much bloodshed that the hyperbolic
phrase ‘blood was running down the walls’ became popular at this time. And Blake is
suggesting, through ‘the hapless soldier’s sigh runs in blood down palace walls’, that
the unhappiness of the British soldier could lead to a similar uprising if its causes continue
to be ignored. And the reference to ‘palace’ here shows us, as well, the idea that the
monarchy is to blame as well. So what can we say about all this? The poor
are suffering because of the abuse of power from the church, the monarchy, the government,
rich landowners. But what is the result? Well, let’s look at the final image of the
poem. ‘And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.’
Here’s an oxymoron, two words together which seem to contradict each other. How can the
happy image of marriage be linked to the image of death associated with the hearse? This
overwhelmingly negative image suggests that what was so good – the London of old that
Blake clearly loved – is destined to be destroyed. It’s a powerful ending to a challenging
poem which criticises those in positions of power. Be it the monarchy, the government,
organised religion, or landowners, the misuse of power by all of these groups leads to widespread
suffering and despair. I hope you enjoyed this video, guys. Please
do give it a thumbs up, and subscribe to the channel.

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69 thoughts on “William Blake: ‘London’ – Mr Bruff Analysis”

  1. Sebastian Gelke says:

    god bless you you probably saved my ass for tomorrow

  2. DJ flamingo says:

    this video is my homework :/

  3. Avia says:

    I don't quite understand how having less syllables makes a line weaker. Having less of something doesn't mean being weaker. It is the same case with many other 'perceptive' points – did the author really, purposely do this? Isn't it just a coincidence? When a reader reads this poem, in most cases, they will not count the syllables unless analysing the text so won't even notice that there's less syllables so there's no way the reader will regard this line as 'weak'. Could you explain please, sir?

  4. Mr Jaxey says:

    9T1 homework for Wednesday lads

  5. Inzainex says:

    bruff.exe has stopped working

  6. Luca Niavarany says:

    Wagwan gs

  7. Laura Wojcikova says:

    its a yes from me 🙂

  8. Joseph George says:

    Well presented. Thank you sir

  9. Joseph George says:

    Sounds like calmer version of James Corden

  10. Anna Brewer says:

    The whole of the third stanza has 7 syllable lines, as opposed to the 8 throughout the rest of the poem – perhaps this could show the different lives those in power live, and how they do not have to experience this suffering on a daily basis (9:01 in video)

  11. Leah J says:

    “Remember A02” every English teacher in my school. Yet I still forget

  12. Leah J says:

    We have three months 🤦🏼‍♀️😭

  13. Aoife downie says:

    Alternatively, "the youthful harlot's curse/ blasts the new-born infant's tear/ and blights with plagues the marriage hearse" could also mean that the man who is getting married has had sex with the prostitute, and as a result of this, has contracted an STD. Blake's use of the word 'curse' could be referring to the STD, which forewarns the downfall of the marriage. Blake says that the 'harlot's curse' 'plagues' the 'wedding hearse'; this ominous reference to death strongly suggests that the marriage car – which should provoke positive descriptions of love – is doomed because of the 'curse' of an STD that the prostitute has passed on to the husband.

  14. Jacob Tobin says:


  15. Thevin Silva says:

    His ideologies and how the poem accentuates the French Revolution kinda has Anarchy written all over it don't you think… so can I write that in a test

  16. Jessy Gray says:

    What is the form ?

  17. M.A says:

    ağzına sağlık babuş

  18. Anna li says:

    please please please can you finish the time and place poetry

  19. Ahmed Ka3i says:

    i wrote most of this stuff and my eng teacher marked most of it wrong smh

  20. Sara Drozd says:

    a very helpfull video 🙂

  21. SirRastamouse AVFC says:

    Could the marriage hearse be related to how everything gets recorded, like a marriage certificate and a death certificate?

  22. Reece Kumar says:

    13:20 audio cuts out

  23. Diana says:

    Could you do more of these videos for time and place, my GCSE exam is coming soon and I am quite struggling. Thank you.

  24. ADz says:

    5 weeks!!! 😟😟

  25. Asmaa m says:

    Thank you very much 💝 you do help me in academic study!

  26. Naimah Khan says:

    Didn’t listen for 2 years and now I have to learn 15 poems off scratch and revise 3 books that I will be tested on in the span of a month. PRAY FOR MEH😩😩😩

  27. Benjamin Watson says:

    Also, the "Harlots curse" could refer to Syphilis

  28. megan N says:

    the sound cut out at 13:21 for me. has anyone else noticed this

  29. Cuber Shil says:

    i would say that mrbruff is gold but lets be honest, he is diamond. Something we all want and love to have, it helps us show how much we care.

    I love your videos

  30. olivia hyde says:

    if only he were my teacher, I might even pass my GCSE's

  31. AND PEGGy says:

    Thanks for doing my homework

  32. Justin La Rosa says:

    Can you do a podcast of all poems

  33. Lilpinkbean Anoosha ullah says:

    Ur such a life saver !!!! 💆‍♂️🥰🥰

  34. Unit 01 says:


  35. True Boss419 says:

    94 dislike of salty teachers

  36. Jamie Heath says:

    Every is actually repeated five times but aside from that it is a good video

  37. michael barker says:

    I'm four days off the first English exam not even nervous. #GCSEs2019

  38. James Harrod says:

    Last minute revision GCSEs 2019 anyone????

  39. The Retarded Gangstas says:


  40. Will W says:

    can you believe i got wife in london and i compared a poem about a WIDOW to london about CORRUPTION claiming it was loss of power kill me

  41. Mrs Shroud Gaming says:

    Awesome.mara mara

  42. Rosa North says:

    Mr Bruff: "… mind forged. They come form the idears and outlooks imposed on us from external authorities"
    Me: … You mean school? :O

  43. charlie watt? says:

    I like to see the regular ordered rhythm, of the ABAB rhyme scheme, perhaps reflects the industrial machines of London. From walking the streets, as Blake does, it can not be seen but actually, without being aware of it, it fuels the city and the revolution; allowing the government to continue to thrive by making money from the poor. The ABAB rhyme scheme also reminds me of children's poetry and helps highlight Blakes hate for the exploitation of child labour in running the factories and machines.

  44. Mayo GamingZ says:

    TOmmoroeo like if u agree!!

  45. General Adman says:

    Marriage Hearse – could possibly symbolise how London joined the industrial revolution (Married it) and this was supposed to be the start of something new – a new chapter in London’s life and change it for the better (like marriage is supposed to do for a person) but instead this industrial revolution ended up destroying London and killing it inside as all of its citizens rot inside (the hearse/death imagery)
    The Oxymoron could show how London is now unnatural now as well… idk just putting my thoughts out there

  46. older account says:

    2019 revision , 1 day before exam :'(

  47. Bslazekan5 says:

    Why am I like this

  48. Will Gillies says:

    i swear analysing poems is just chatting complete rubbish about one tiny thing – did he really use less syllables to weaken the line or is it just a coincidence 😂

  49. Vienna B says:

    is this the only vid on time and place poems?

  50. Riyadh Ul-Hoque says:

    last minute revision?

  51. Hassan Zubair says:

    I think the power of nature theme is going to come up

  52. Hassan Zubair says:

    2017 effect of war
    2018 power and conflict

  53. Kate Wilson says:

    GCSE 2019 anyone??

  54. WeShould SaveOurselves says:

    my favorite poem. i love it

  55. Emma Skinner says:

    night before freak out anyone?? #gcses2019

  56. LT X says:

    Would it make sense to say “mind forged manicles” represents how we are doing this to ourselves?? Those in charge are blocking the way we think and how we see. Stopping us from having our opinions???

  57. Millie Greer says:

    Why have I left my revision a few hours before my exam 🤦🏼‍♀️😂

  58. lfc fuzzy says:

    This is what I call last minute revision

  59. raf yehh says:

    The last sentence were it says plagues could that show the people in power and how they are the cause

  60. Imo22 says:

    I just found this channel. I’m crying from relief, the videos are easily to follow and I understood everything clearly. 😝

  61. LordRedCobra says:

    13:21 no sound?

  62. Infinite Space says:

    isn't it TROCHAIC tetrameter instead of IAMBIC pentameter

  63. Lily Blackburn says:

    Please do more time and place poems I’m dying!!!

  64. Demonic Potato says:

    My teacher over looks poems alot spending one lesson on them while weeks on another, this is really useful to add to my notes and understand the poem and meaning behind it more, thankyou.

  65. ImranGetsCrafty YT says:

    Whats the point of literature like there is no point in the future lol

  66. River Ó hÁillewill says:

    Thank you for explaining the word chartered! I couldn't find that anywhere else. I wish I understood the last stanza more. The harlot's curse blighting with plague the marriage hearse made me think of syphilis. One husband's night with a harlot can turn a marriage into a ride to the grave, no? Or could Blake have been aware enough of women's experiences to know that marriage was a hearse for many even before it was blighted by plague?

  67. dav snow says:

    I'm 75 years old, and the last time I looked at any poetry was about 63 years ago, (what a relief that was). Spent the rest of my life reading non-fiction DIY articles and manuals.

    Much more to my liking.

    But I came across this video yesterday as a result of newly joining a creative writing class for old folks, and poetry is the topic we're studying now.

    Despite the knowledgeable criticisms contained in these Comments Threads, I found the video quite delightful, very helpful and encouraging especially the back-grounding of Blake's life, and the contextual analysis of the dawn of the Industrial Age. Thank You!

  68. AimsandFreyfrey says:

    This is very useful 👍🏻

  69. J1M1 H4GU3 says:

    Wow you helped me out here better than most teachers at school

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