18th century London, it seems, was not a city of beauty or mirth; that is, at least, for the poets William Blake and Jonathan Swift. Blake’s “London” and Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” are both poems in which the pervading theme is one of a dark, miserable city. London is portrayed as a cold and unredeemable city in both the 1710 poem of Swift, and the 1793 poem of Blake. These works, over eighty years apart, are so strikingly similar in their themes and focus that it is evident that English society, especially that in cities, had changed little, retaining its oppressive social order. Blake and Swift, acutely aware of such problems, use their poetry to make scathing social commentaries.
Blake's dismal "London" connects various characters and socio/political institutions in order to critique the injustices perpetrated in England. The busy, commercial city of London functions as a space in which the speaker can imagine the inescapable connections between social institutions and the citizens of that society. Although separated by differences of class and gender, the citizens of London brush up against each other so that the misery of the poor and dispossessed is a direct indictment of the callousness of the rich and powerful, and also the institutions of state and religion.
The speaker of the poem emphasizes the social and economic differences that separate the citizens of London. By repeating the word "chartered" in the first two lines, he reminds the reader of the commercial nature of the city, the fact that portions of it are owned (even the river Thames), and that not everyone has equal access to goods or property. Even though there is a distinct separation of class and p...
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...he thinking of their authors. Blake's short poem, simply entitled “London” is redolent with his opinions of the injustices of his time, and the dismal social situation of many of the city’s inhabitants. The city, for Blake, carries an aura of damp, cold, listless people and social institutions. Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” achieves basically the same thing, although in a more humorous manner. It does, or course, comment on the sense of entrapment and depressing monotony of life, the superficial worries that bog down human existence. It is striking how many of these problems continue to plague modern society, as we have grown increasingly commercial through time. In the works of Blake and Swift, we see a reflection of nearly any large city in Europe today, perhaps minus the extreme and abject poverty that we now only associate with third world countries.
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