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“Marriage Hearse” and the Main Theme of the Poem ‘London’

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An Assignment on English Literature

  1. Comment on “Marriage Hearse” and Describe the Main Theme of the Poem ‘London’.

Ans: The poem ‘London’ written by William Blake, is considered to be one of the best pieces written by the poet. William Blake, born on 28th November 1757 was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. He passed away in August 1827. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. 

"Marriage Hearse" and the Main Theme of the Poem 'London'

The poem ‘London’ was penned by William Blake when the breeze of the Industrial Revolution was flowing furiously all-around England. According to the poet, the Industrial Revolution paved the way for a society where humankind lost the sight of what it means to be a human being. The poet describes the pathetic situation of the city of London while taking a walk through the streets of the city where he could only find misery, sorrowfulness and cries of people all around. The main theme of this poem is the unending oppression of Urban life for the people of London. The poet, while his walk through the streets of London, could only find resignation and indignation in the people who included men, women as well as newborn babies. In fact, in the face of every person, he could notice the feelings of being oppressed and tormented by city life. The usage of chartered streets itself showcases the ineffable restrictions they had in the city life and also the gloomy life of the people. Also, the poet’s use of word charted as a describing word for River Thames signifies that even the river which is said to be a symbol of freedom have lost their freedom of choosing the courses for themselves and have been confined. The poet during this walk with his critical evaluations comes to the conclusion that there were only marks of weakness and woe in the lives of people and not even a single face resembling happiness was found. In everyone’s voice, he could only get hopelessness, fear and shouts of the curse. Most importantly, his use of the words ‘mind-forged manacles’ which has in itself a unique combination shows how constrained the people of London were. Manacles are like handcuffs used for physical restrains, but, in this poem, it does not resemble the restrictions from the physical world; rather, it restricts the minds of the people of London. The mind-forged manacles are formed through their thoughts and not awarded by the world. This too showcases the number of restrictions and oppression the Londoners had even in their thought process. He also mentions in the poem about the sufferings of the chimney sweepers who happens to be little children because they were the only ones who could clean the chimneys due to their short stature. Chimney sweeping was a ferocious profession into which the small children were forced into. It was very much prevalent work during Blake’s time in London. The poverty-stricken children were compelled to work sacrificing their own body and wishes in exchange for money, food and lodging etc. It means that the children who are supposed to grow with happiness, by spending their time in playing and learning were deprived of their real-life and forced to live with constrains just merely to exist in this world. But on the contrary, they even can’t survive in this world for a long time because working as chimney sweepers they jump into an environment where it is full of toxic gases and physical hazards. The poet criticises the Church of England for these pathetic and unending afflictions of the children because, at the time of the industrial revolution, the church played a vital role in the administration of the country. The poet condemned the Church of England by calling it “blackening” and also claims that the church to be horrified or appalled at the chimney sweepers. Also, with it, the church, which is to be the compassionate face of Jesus Christ was showing negligence in their duties towards these chimney sweepers who are often orphan children for whom the church was responsible. Even this urban life had brought in oppression in the life of the soldiers who were into war against nations for the selfish needs as well as power thirst of the government and lose their lives in vain for a society who considered economic activity and individualism as the fundamental principles of living. The poet criticises the government for this bloodshed caused by urban oppression. In the final stanza, while walking through the streets, he could hear the sounds of a curse by young harlots. The poet reveals how the corrupted minds of the people made young girls take up prostitution as their way of living. The idea of youthful harlots explains the level of poverty, oppression and corruption in the society and affirms that it has taken deep roots into the lives of every human being. Urban life has resulted in decaying of innocence, and it reaches the extreme level when the poet hears the Harlot’s cursing at the tears of the newborn babies. The children who sweep the chimneys, the soldiers also the harlots all have to some of the other ways sell their bodies in order to survive in this urban life. In other words, everyone is in the vicious circle of urban life, forced to exchange the only thing they own in this situation their body for the sake of keeping it alive. The poet also asserts the cyclical nature of people’s life who will, again and again, come back to the point of poverty, pain and hopelessness in whatever they do and where ever they go. The people don’t have the freedom to escape their urban woes.

The poem views modern city life ridiculous. With the introduction of the Industrial Revolution, London had a significant and speedy all-round change. The poem expresses that these changes aren’t for a better society rather for the worst one where love, humanity are all dead. According to the poet, the main reason of London’s misery is the drastic change in the thinking pattern of the people of London, the outlook of people about themselves, about the society as well as the way it is developed. The poet firmly believes that the society could be more joyous, free and filled with love but the people’s fright, greed and hunt for power have made the urban environment not a boon rather a curse and cause of plaguing.

The use of “Marriage hearse” in the final stanza as an Oxymoron, in my opinion, was used to symbolise the fact that they did the sex which a woman is supposed to have within the boundaries of marriage outside of it. This wrongful deed has even though gained them some love, and this love has led them nowhere else rather into the well of death. Marriage was considered to be very holy during the time of Blake, but the harlots have deranged marriage by having sold their body before ever entering into the marriage union. So, the unwanted way of living as well as the unwanted child both have caused an inevitable pain to the act or idea of marriage which could be regarded as dead. Even the birth of an unwanted child could also be a final nail on the coffin of marriage.

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