1794 – Songs of Experience
by William Blake
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice; in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every black’ning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse “London”, by William Blake, allows us to eavesdrop on the thoughts of a midnight wanderer who stalks the streets of London laying judgment to all he sees. As part of his book of poetry, written in 1789, “London” was included in the section named “Songs of Experience” (as opposed to “Songs of Innocence”). Every poem of the book has an “experienced” and an “innocent” counterpart, save this one. The mind of Blake’s wanderer is the mind of a sociopath. The narrator of the piece is disgusted with all around him and all that London represents. He seems to hold the babies, the soldiers, the whores and the church accountable for the state of the city. He displays the abnormal tendencies of what would be considered, in modern psychology, an antisocial personality. Perhaps there is no innocent counterpart to this poem for the man in this poem has lost his innocence. There is no complement to the mind of a person who, for all intents and purposes, has lost touch with the his fellow man.
The fact that the narrator in this piece is wandering, rather than walking or strolling, is significant. The act of wandering is associated with a lack of purpose, or destination, to a journey. The wanderer in this story states no intention for his activity. He feels no compulsion to explain why he is walking the streets of London at night, gazing at all the faces of all he sees. When he says “and mark in every face I meet” (LC p52 .3) he is saying that he is watching, noticing, and examining, every other person that is out in the city with him. It is not customary for most to do this sort of thing, but the wanderer of London feels no sense of remorse in doing what, by most standards, is abnormal behavior…
…ing escapes the scrutiny of this reflective artist. “London” was a vehicle for Blake to give warning to his readers as to what the industrialization of his home city was creating. According to the humanistic viewpoint of psychosocial theory of personality disorders, when a person becomes so disenchanted with the world around them, they will regress into a world of their own and disconnect with society. This is what has happened to the wanderer of London. He has lost touch with his world. He came to believe that he is of little importance and of little consequence. He has removed himself from London, not physically, but emotionally and mentally. Blake’s mistrust of the social reform of the time gave him the insight to recognize that this will happen when the world becomes too overwhelming for some. He gave a glimpse of what the poison of “progress” would create in the minds of those who were incapable of conformity to the quickly changing world. He is presenting to his audience what the new London is creating and warns that the city is self destructing.