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William Blake


More challenging questions!

Lorraine Knickelbein
Grens High School
Updated: 18 January 2014
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While wandering through the depressing streets of London, the poet is acutely aware of the signs of pain, misery and sorrow in the faces of the people.

In the poem, which is a good example of Blake's social criticism, he refers to the reasons for their suffering and the social injustices.

Worst of all is the young prostitute, cursing the newborn baby, and the effect she has on marriage.


William Blake was born in London in November 1757. He lived most of his life in that city.

When he was 10 years of age, he attended a drawing school and thereafter made engraving his profession, graduating from the Royal Academy at the age of 22.

He was then employed as an engraver to a bookseller and publisher, where he was responsible for creating the metal picture plates for making illustrations in books.

In 1783, Blake published his first volume of poems and thereafter established his own engraving business. This enabled him to publish poetry in a way in which no other poet was doing: by incorporating his text into engraved picture plates.

This would have remarkable consequences. First, the pictures were artistic renditions of the theme and were not meant to be accurate. Second, each and every picture appeared in a slightly different shade of colour so that it is difficult today to determine which colour was the original.

Move your mouse over the picture below to see an example of his engraving for "London".
Blake's best poems are found in just two collections: Songs of Innocence which he published in 1789; and Songs of Experience although this was not published on its own.

Indeed, his complete works was published in 1794 and was called Songs of Innocence and Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.

Blake was regarded in his time as very eccentric, if not somewhat mad. In fact, his ideas make more sense to us today than they did to his contemporaries.

He was an unorthodox Christian who was heavily influenced by mystical groups. He felt that the state was abandoning the needy. Indeed, it is this disillusionment with the suffering he saw in London that comes through in this poem.

But what is he trying to tell us? Is it, in the words of his anthology in which this poem was published, something about "the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul"?

Blake died in August 1827. He was then 70 years of age.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"I wander thro' each chartr'd street,
Near where the chartr'd Thames does flow."
  • The word "chartr'd" is used ironically in this poem. Explain the irony. (4)

[Need help?]

"In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear."
  • Fully discuss the effectiveness of the metaphor "the mind-forg'd manacles I hear". (6)

[Need help?]

"How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every black'ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls."
  • Discuss the sarcasm in the line "Every blackening Church appalls". (3)

[Need help?]

  • Account for Blake's use of the word "sigh". (3)

[Need help?]

  • Discuss the sad irony in the words "Runs in blood down | Palace walls". (4)

[Need help?]

"But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse."
  • Consider the connotation of the words "blights" and "plagues", and account for Blake's choice of these words. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Discuss why "the youthful Harlot's curse | Blasts the new-born Infant's tear" is such a shocking image. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Discuss the effective use of the OXYMORON in the line, "And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse". (4)

[Need help?]

  • How would you describe Blake's tone in this poem? (4)

[Need help?]

This poem was written in 1794. Is it still relevant today? (4)

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