In the poem “London”, Blake shows that oppression can not be defeated. Weakness and cursing which then leads to death play the dominant roles in the poem. Throughout the poem there are descriptions of woe and misery. Blake uses these to emphasize that poverty and neglect result in confusion, chaos, and turmoil.
Weakness is one of the dilemmas, in which the poor find difficult to overcome. In the first stanza Blake says:
” I wander through each chartered street.
Near where the chartered Thames does flow”
The chartered streets, the mind forged manacles and the repetition of key words all symbolize control over the common man. The chartered streets show that the government is prohibiting them to climb the success ladder. They are placed in poverty and this is just a reminder to them that they will stay.
The common man is also bound by “mind forged manacles”, which manifest themselves in every action. That the manacles are of the minds is significant, for the mind is the freest part of the individual. The body may be constrained by the environment, by other bodies, by health, or any number of other restraints. The heart, which is to say the emotions , are pulled this way and that by the influence of others. Even the soul, according to predestinists, is limited by the supply or lack of divine grace. Not so the mind; it is the only part of the individual which may truly be said to be free.
Weakness is also illustrated in the repetitions in the first and second stanza:
” 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,”
Blake’s repetitions emphasize that there is a continual drone of oppression and captivity. The audience can hear the common man beating against the wall of his prison with each repetitive word.
Not only is weakness a dominant role in “London” but so is the cursing of the institutions and the common man. This is evident in line 7:
” In every voice, in very ban,”
Banned can mean two things: public condemnation and marriage. The institutions curse the ignorant and the people curse the institutions. Marriage is a curse instead of a blessing because it leads to a life of more poverty.
The audience can also see how the failures of the church and state are made evident through the misery and cursing of the Chimney sweeper.
” How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appalls,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs blood down palace walls.”
The chimney sweeper is blackened by the church that permits children to be sold into this form of slavery; and thus, the chimney sweeper blackens the church in return. The state is revealed as the bloody machine of war that it is by Blake’s brilliant image of the sigh that turns to blood once it comes in contact with the place wall.
Another curse is the Harlot’s curse as seen in line 14:
“How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the newborn infant’s tear.
The harlot curses the Institutions and the Institutions hypocritically curses the harlot. They curse the harlot but refuse correct the problem. Her curse also blasts the infants tear. The new-born child, traditionally a symbol of hope and promise of a new start is instead associated with Death rather than Life. The mother becomes infected and the child is born blind. The marriage Hearse takes another family and goes out to seek another.
The common man continues to be oppressed. The cycle goes round and round until someone intervenes, takes responsibility and puts a stop to condemning others. Until this happens society’s problems cannot be solved and life will have no meaning.