The Representation of London in William Blake's “London“ and William Wordsworth's “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”

Seminar Paper, 2008

8 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The representation of London in William Blake's "London"

3. The representation of London in “Composed upon Westminster Bridge September 3, 1802”

4. Comparison of the representation of London in both poems

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

7. Appendix

1. Introduction

This work is about the representation of London in William Blake's “London“ and William Wordsworth's “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802”. The reason for choosing these poems is the contradictoriness at first glance but at second view opens a new perspective, for the two poems complete each other to a general and detailed overview of London and its two different sights. It should display how both poets see London through different perspectives, sum up and compare these differences. One question which could arise while reading the poems could be which of the representations is more realistic for the time. Furthermore it should give an answer to the question, what the authors intended by writing the poems and discuss if there are different intentions. The analysis of the poems focuses mainly on the representation of London. The results will be compared and the questions, which were brought up in this introduction will be answered.

2. The representation of London in William Blake's "London"

William Blake was born on the 27th of November and died on the 8th of August in 1827, which made him an eye - witness of the industrialization. On the one hand he loved London but on the other hand he was very (cf. Damon 1988: 244) “depressed by its darkness, the pillars of smoke from the mills, and the degradation of its inhabitants: the beggars, the crowds of ragamuffins, the swarns of prostitutes.”(Damon 1988: 244) . The atmosphere of this poem can be describes as very sad, depressive, critical but most of all very angry. The speaker depicts the metropolis as dirty “blackening”(v. 10), blaming the industrialization: “with the factories of the cities casting a pall smoke over vast areas of cheaply built houses and slum tenements” (Stillinger & Lynch: 1366). The effects of industrialization seem to spread over the city like cancer, turning it into a hellish place. The people of the working class are characterized as frightened and weak: “in every infant's cry of fear” (v. 6) “marks of weakness” (v. 4). The society is clearly divided in two: “the two classes of capital and labor, the rich and the poor” (Stillinger & Lynch: 1366). On the one side are the “chimney sweepers”, the “hapless soldiers” and the “harlots” and on the other side is the clergy and the nobility, which are represented by “palace walls” (v.12) and “blackening church” (v.12). The church is responsible for the great misery, which is shown by mentioning the crippled soldiers whose blood runs "down palace walls" (v. 12) and the children workers, who were forced to clean the chimneys and often were hurt or died while doing it. Blake critizices the church for neglecting to help the helpless. His most striking instrument to emphasize the desperate position of the inhabitants of London is the repetition of “every”. “Every 'every' repeats the one(s) before, but every time it is used it refers to another subject, and so its meaning becomes displaced.” (Wolfreys 1998: 40) The image of the “mind – forged manacles” (v. 8) which is highlighted by an alliteration is the superordinate theme, which finally echoes in each repetition of the word 'every'. The complete second stanza is used to describe what the lyrical I hears when it wanders through the streets of London. The sense of hearing is of great importance to Blake which can be seen by the use of an acrostic. In the third stanza the first letter of each line read top down results in the word "HEAR" in capital letters. This stresses the notion of listening which is highlighted in the previous stanza: “one will hear endlessly the variaty of sounds (also something which the poem emphasizes and which Thompson's reading directs us to hear)” (Wolfreys 1998: 41). The poem should not simply sum up London. For the writer it is important that the reader can enter it, that he can feel and imagine the circumstances and situation (cf. Wolfreys 1998: 41). Because of the vivid images Blake creates before the reader's inner eye he or she can easily empathize with the author's message: “The sounds, sights and marks all leave an indelible impression of London on us” (Wolfreys 1998: 41). The poem “London” “is a record of his depression” (Damon 1988: 244), which makes it very authentic and comprehensible. Furthermore is it a realistic illustration also of England, but especially London during industrialization.

3. The representation of London in “Composed upon Westminster Bridge September 3, 1802”

William Wordsworth was born on the 7th of April in 1770 and died on the 23rd of April in 1850. Like Blake, he lived during the industrialization in England and was one of the major romantic poets. The first difference one might notice is the form of the poems. While William Blake's poem "London" consists of four stanzas which contain a cross rhyme throughout the whole work, William Wordsworth's "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802" has the form of a Petrarchan sonnet. This kind of sonnet consists of an octave and a sestet. The octave has a strict rhyme scheme (abbaabba) which is fulfilled in Wordsworth's poem. The following sestet is not restricted to a specific rhyme scheme, but what is important is that there is a change of rhyme after the first eight lines. The sestet in this poem is cdcdcd and therefore a cross rhyme. The octave of “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” describes London as “silent, bare” (v. 5) and very beautiful at the beginning of the day. While reading the poem, the reader may notice Wordsworth's attitude towards the metropolis as very positive “Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty” (v. 2f). His poem is concerned with the creative process, the “spontaneous overflow of feelings” (Stillinger & Lynch: 1372) and in this poem, the lyrical I expresses, what the author felt, when he was standing on the Westminster Bridge. Both are overwhelmed by the wonderful sight of London in the morning “Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!” (v. 11). 'Both' is used because the lyrical “I is [...]one who shares recognizable traits with the poet” (Stillinger & Lynch: 1371) in the romanticism. The use of enjambements (v. 2f; 4f; 6f; 9f) stresses the sponteneaous overflow of ideas and puts it into focus. This rhetorical device liquifises the reading of the poem, because it rather feels like prose than poetry. The poet glorifies London: “All bright and glittering in smokeless air” (v. 8). With the end of the octave, there is also a thematic change. This break is called volta. Whereas in the first eight lines the beautiful moment is described in detail, the second part deals much more with telling the reader the feelings the poet had in this moment. While reading the last two lines, one might think, that this poem must be an imaginative situation in some case. “Dear God! The very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still” (v. 13f) shows the metropolis as a city, which is empty and silent, but London could never be that soundless and quiet, especially during the time of industrialization, where ships went by and people were at work all the time. But the most important information to get the sense correctly is the "seem asleep" (v. 13) which explains it. Wordsworth describes London in the morning time and this is the only possible time, where London could be like this. When the people begin to work, it would not be imaginable to have silence and calmness. The poet combines nature “The river glideth at his own sweet will” (v. 12) with the city, which is built by men “towers, domes, theatres, and temples” (v. 6), which emphasizes the uniqueness of this moment. He unites two completely contradictory images. On the one hand the industrial city, which depicts the historical circumstances and on the other hand the really beautiful London at this exact moment seen through the artist's eyes. This analysis argues that this poem is not about an imaginative moment but about a real one which is indeed unique. To be able to enjoy such a moment you have to ignore all the problems and injustice which affected London and lift your view above that.

4. Comparison of the representation of London in both poems

The representations of London in these poems differ a lot. Actually, Blake's “London”[1] delivers the complete opposite of Wordsworth's sight on the metropolis. While Blake writes about crying children and the fear in people' s faces, Wordsworth describes a silent and quiet city. Blake focuses on people, who are helpless and poor, Wordsworth describes a silent and quiet city. Blake depicts people, who are sick and repudiated, Wordsworth writes about the wonderful sight of London and its architecture. The signs of industrialization, which are “blackening” the church walls and force the children to work as “chimney – sweeper's” are only found in Blake's poem. In contrast to this, Wordsworth speaks of the “smokeless air” which was unimaginable in the modern England with its factories. Both poets regard London form a very different perspective. Wordsworth reflects the general overview one might have, while standing on Westminster Bridge, while the other is literally zooming in by entering the inner space of London city. Blake's perspective is that of a man, who walks through London's streets and is thus able to catch all the details that are invisible to Wordsworth's panoramic view. It is amazing, that two poets of the same period have such different views when they contemplate the same city. Maybe the difference in their writing is an indicator for the complexity that exists within the city. Regarded this way, the synthesis of both poems, despite the contrariness of their messages, form a new unity that resembles the variety of impressions that could be experienced in the time of industrialization in London. One question that arose in the introduction is which description of London is the more realistic one. This could only be answered by historians or by reading the work of other authors, who also focused on describing London through their art. The reason for Blake to write a poem like “London” is easy to understand. It galvanizes not only the ones, who had to suffer from industrialization, but also criticizes the church and those who could help people, who were disabled and poor but who neglected to do so. It should awake everyone, who reads his poem, to think about and recognize this desperate situation and to start helping where it is needed. For Blake it was a horrific experience to see his beloved London in such a bad condition and he couldn't endure this injustice and the faineance of the church and stay silent. Wordsworth's intention could have been to work against this indelible impression of poverty and to recall the readers that there must be more than just suffering. So he describes how beautiful London is, when you are watching it from a different point of view. He may euphemize it by

giving just an overview. However, this work regards both poems as somehow opposite to each other, but maybe it was not Wordsworth's intention to create an opposition. It could also have been a special moment on the Westminster Bridge, which took place exactly like he stated it and that he just wanted to eternalize it by writing the poem. Another explanation could be, that it wasn't important to him to show a realistic but a slightly changed perspective to enchant the reader, to make him or her feel happy. But it is clear, that this moment was so important to him, if it was a unique one or just imagined, that he made it immortal through his writing for it was a moment of powerful feelings. His intentions were rather emotional in opposite to Blake's, which were highly political although his words are fuelled by strong emotions as well.


[1] pun intended y author

Excerpt out of 8 pages


The Representation of London in William Blake's “London“ and William Wordsworth's “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”
University of Wuppertal
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Representation, London, William, Blake, William, Wordsworth, Westminster, Bridge”
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Annika Bräuer (Author), 2008, The Representation of London in William Blake's “London“ and William Wordsworth's “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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