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Compare and contrast Wordsworth's and Blake's poems. What do the poems tell you about the differing attitudes towards the city?
The two poems tell us a lot about the poet's respective attitudes towards the city. We learn of their (occasionally) differing attitudes towards industrialisation, nature and the like. We can observe how the two poets have used different techniques such as structure, rhyme, imagery etc. to enhance their messages.The poet William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and by the time he died on Shakespeare day in 1850 he had influenced English poetry as a whole by producing some of the greatest works in history. He was educated at grammar school and lived much of his life in amongst the northern lakes in the heart of the Lake District.
Both poems were written on the dawning of the industrial revolution, which brought smoke, buildings and machines. Such a happening would, I suspect, have been an unwelcome visitor to Blake as a person who held strong anti-establishment views, and Wordsworth as he was not a proponent of the industrial revolution but a Romantic. The titles in themselves state vague opinions of the respective poets about the city, Wordsworth's title: "composed upon Westminster Bridge" is in a way romantic and euphoric when compared with Blake's "London" - he is dismissing it as London and giving it no other credit for the huge industrialised machine that it has become. One should note that Blake's poem was written at the end of a centaury where as Wordsworth's was written at the beginning of the next, suggesting that the latter would be more imaginative and appreciative, as with the turn of any centuary comes new beginnings, modernisation and general new-found appreciation for the new.
Wordsworth's poem is a sonnet, composed of an octave and a sestet which seems to be slightly more liberal and freer than Blake's "London" which is made up of four very exact stanzas with a mapped out ABAB rhyme scheme in a way that makes it feel restrained and mapped out in the same way that he sees the city of London to be. It is also written in iambic tetrameter, adding to the feeling that it is very chartered and claustrophobic, by keeping the rhythm very standardised, restricted and constant. Iambic tetrameter is also used in children's poems such as nursery rhymes, and I think that Blake is using this fact to make the point that the process of industrialising a major city such as London is very childish, and perhaps the wrong thing to do entirely. Wordsworth does not see the city as being restrained and overly-mapped, perhaps because he lives in the English countryside, and to see the capital city is somewhat special, and this is certainly reflected in the structure of his poem, for instance in the fact that he has used a sonnet - a poetical structure typically used for love poetry.
Going on to the second stanza we can see that there is again a lot of repetition. This is used to emphasize his (Blake's) point that the city of London is very repetitively laid out in blocks, and it is more a machine than any sort of human society. The stanza does the same thing over and over again, for example every line but the last begin "In every…", and on two of these lines the word is then used again, in the same way that the engine of London fires its pistons. Also in this stanza, Bake talks of "mind-forged manacles". By this he means that he hears "in every cry of every man… etc." manacles, which are a kind of implement used to restrain prisoners, which are either forged as in the way a metal is forged, implying that they are very strong manacles, or that they are forged in the same way that bank-notes are forged, implying that they are without cause, and fake. Whichever of these two (or indeed both) was intended, it does not matter because the emphasis is on 'mind', and not 'forged'. Blake is implying here that there would be no manacles if these people had not dreamt them up and invented then in their minds, in a way that city-folk have always managed to do. The words "mind-forged" interrupt the rhythm of the poem and interrupt the rhythmic pulsing of the newly industrialised London.The next stanza, in my opinion, is much deeper in it's meaning than the other three. In the opening line of this stanza Blake refers to a chimney-sweeper, accenting the fact that London, with the dawning of the industrial revolution is very sooty and smoky, as a direct cause of the new machines and factories. The next line: "Every blackening church appalls,…" offers a variety of meanings. The word 'blackening' may be being used in conjunction with the reference to chimney-sweepers and sooty new factories, however I think that it is being used to describe how the church is now becoming corrupt. The "hapless soldier's sigh" is a reference to the war in France which Blake is vehemently against. It means that the soldier is a hapless man, most likely a very young man, in other words, someone who does not really have a choice in the matter of whether he is a soldier or not and has been drafted into the army to die, as he is told: 'pro patria', when realistically he is dieing for some-one else higher up than him to attain more money. This is reflected when the "hapless soldier's sigh runs in blood down palace walls". Blake is saying, using synaesthetic imagery, that either the royals have blood on their hands which the entire population can see running down the palace walls, or that certain members of the population have written graffiti on the palace walls about the war in France, perhaps in red paint which has then run down the walls.
Blake says then in the last stanza, that above all, above the cries of mind-forged manacles and the like, he hears "how the youthful harlot's curse blasts the new born infant's tear, and blights with plagues the marriage-hearse". Blake is saying here that even amongst the machinery and in this new industrial melting pot which is London, there has been created a hunting ground for prostitutes, and a morally unacceptable place. He is saying that children are being used for prostitution, hence "youthful harlots", and many of them have children, which they are unable to properly look after being so young and being in such a line of work. He then talks about how this curse "Blights with plagues the marriage hearse". I think he is implying how the fact that this child is unwanted will ruin this girl's chances in marriage, which is why Blake makes the connection between the two words: "marriage", and "hearse". He is saying that any future marriage of this youthful harlot is doomed from the start.
Wordsworth's poem starts with a sentence which appears, unlike Blake's poem: London, to have strong religious undertones. "Earth has not anything to show more fair:…" implies that perhaps heaven does have something to show more fair. Also this sentence is a hyperbole, as I'm sure Wordsworth has indeed seen fairer things, but in that situation looking out from Westminster Bridge at dawn over London, he may have actually thought it was the fairest thing he had ever seen. The following two lines, "Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in it's majesty:…" use primary senses as a tool to personalize the action of passing by. He also links the two words: "dull" and "soul", implying that a sight such as this one has a spiritual impact on one's soul and what a dull soul would pass by and not take in said sight. Sibilance is also used to aid the flow of the poem and for it to sound pleasing to the ear, linking in with the references to the divine. It would be slightly contradictory if one were to talk about the divine and heaven etc. in such a way, using a lot of hard consonants, as it would sound harsh and be displeasing to the ear.
After which Wordsworth moves on to the bigger picture so to speak, and uses silent imagery, 'This City now doth, like a garment, wear The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,..' to explain how the city is cloaked in the morning as if it were a garment, which he gives innocence and purity by calling it "silent, bare.". Wordsworth uses this and carries with the theme to the end of the octave being innocence. He says that all the man-made things in the city "lie open unto the fields, and to the sky:". By which he means that man still builds and creates beauty, and that this beauty is interconnected with heaven by virtue of its splendour. He then finishes the octave saying "All bright and glittering in the smokeless air." This just caps off the octave which is largely about the synthetic beauty of what he can see from Westminster Bridge. It reminds me of the religious song: "All things bright and beautiful", which is of course about the beauty of what God has made and put on the Earth. "Smokeless air" indicates that it is very early morning, perhaps shortly after sunrise on a summer morning, as all the new industry; the factories the mines and the ports would all start up in the morning and produce smoke.Even in this section of the poem which is focused on all things synthetic, there has been no mention of people, where as in Blake's poem almost the entire thing was focused on people. I think this is an indication that Wordsworth has little interest in who lives in the city and what they do in their city, but instead with the synthetic beauty of it and the profound effect it has on his soul. Blake has seen the beauty of the city but being anti-industrialization does not think much of it and decides to find fault with its inhabitants instead.
The sestet which follows, although adjoined to the octave is entirely focused on the other side of Wordsworth's opinion, the natural beauty of London. it is often the case in sonnets that around one half will be devoted to one side of the argument, and then the other half will be used to come back to this point, enhance it, or focus on the other half of the same side of the argument. He begins by saying that the sun has never shone upon something so beautiful "In his first splendour, valley, rock or hill.". This highlights the difference in time of day between Wordsworth's and Blake's poems. Wordsworth's is obviously set in the brilliant morning sun, where as Blake's is set in the middle of the night ("…through midnight streets I hear…").
Wordsworth then says that he has never seen or felt "a calm so deep", repeating the word never twice. I think he is saying that looking out from Westminster Bridge in the brilliant morning sun has a euphoric effect on the mind and the soul, aiding the temporary spiritual enlightenment. In the second half of that sentence he says that "the river glideth at his own sweet will:" which is not only very onomatopoeic and archaic language but is utterly different to the opinion of Blake, who thinks that the river is dredged, chartered and constricted. Also by using the word "sweet" Wordsworth is implying that all things natural are gentle and calm - the river is gently meandering its way through the city, rather than the city strangling the river, as Blake implies when he says 'Near where the chartered Thames does flow,..'.
Blake's view of the city is a somewhat negative one being anti-industrialization and anti-establishment; where as Wordsworth's view of the city is that he sees it as a thing of both natural and synthetic beauty.
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Pages: 960, Edition: 2nd Revised edition, Hardcover, Oxford University Press
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