London by William Blake Summary, Analysis,Explanation
[a] An Introduction :
During March 1737, Johnson lived in London, accompanied by his former pupil, a famous actor subsequently, David Garrick. His life there was not at all pleasurable. With his earnest effort, with the help of his favourite pupil Garrick, he tried to find some occupation to earn the livelihood of his family . As he was yet to have any fixed income, he could not bring his wife to London. On getting some scope for maintaining his family, he brought his wife to London in 1737.
They first lived at Woodstocks Street and then moved to 6, Castle Street in London. Johnson, however, was fortunate to find an employment in the journal The Gentleman’s Magazine run by Edward Cave. Of course, he also wrote anonymously in different publications, particularly in important social and political issues of the time. He also wrote some non-dramatic poems, of course not in his own name, but anonymously. All those, however, bore substantial evidence of his literary skill, but he had not encouraging financial resources.
During his stay in London, with his hard and strugglesome living, London was studied by him from a critical angle. Actually, the city was the centre of all sorts of acts of crimes and mischiefs and immorality. It was in this context that Johnson composed the poem ‘London! The poem ‘London’ is actually a part of the 18th century genre of imitation.
It was based on Juvernal’s Third Satire that describes a character called Umbricisn living in Cumae after he left Rome to escape the clutch of vices and dangers therein. In Johnson’s version, the character Thales travels to Cambria or Wales to escape the problems of London city. Johnson modelled his work on Juvenal’s based on his own appreciation for the latter’s works. The epigraph from Juvenal, ‘Quis ineptae [iniquae] Tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus ut teneat se?’ (Juv 1.30-1) can be translated as ‘Who is so patient of the foolish [wicked] city, so ironwilled, as to contain himself.’
(b) Substance :
The poem ‘London’ describes initially the various problems which beset the city of London. Assuming the decision of his friend Thales to leave London to have the purer air on the solitary show of Cambria, the poet examines why London life. is slighted and criticised. The emphasis is laid specifically on the prevalence of criminality and corruption, freely practised, by a good many immoral persons in London.
By the side of this, the poet refers to the squalor of the areas where the poor Londoners lived. The various abstract problems are personified as those who seek to put London to shame and destruction. The poet mentions such characters as Malice, Rapine and Accident, conspiring together to adversely effect those general people who lived in London.
In this connection, the poet also refers to the government of England, then under the control of the Whig Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. The poet does not hide here the political contentions that he wants to mention. Although his attack is not straight to the government and the King, his implication is never missing of his adverse opinions about the same. The poet also refers to England’s rivalry with Spain
in commerce and political power. He finds fault with the existing order that failed to cope with Spain, made so much vanquished in the Elizabethan reign. The poet finds England lagging behind others in all matters, missing the old glories that once the country had. Therefore, he makes an earnest appeal to his people to rise from their present sloth and loneliness to resign their mean and idle parts to regain what England had lost.
Through an indirect comparison with the past, the poet mourns the glory that was on the wane and call for the end of all the foes that would mar English life, such as vices, crimes and corruptions and to restore the land to the track of virtue once more to exert all that must be needed for the cure of the existing mischief.
(C) A Synoptical Analysis :
London is a poem, produced shortly after Samuel Johnsons settlement in London with his family. It was written in 1738 and was his first major published work. The poem contains his reaction and attitude to London and the prevalent state of affairs there. This is rather a long poem in 263 lines, imitating the famous Roman poet Juvenal’s Third Satire.
A synoptical analysis of this long poem, containing more or less the same critical observation on that capital city is given below :
1. Occasion : The occasion of the poem is the poet’s grief and sense of a previous loss at the departure of his friend Thales (identity not accurately known) from London, in disgust and wrath to reside in Wales. As the poet is waiting for the rowing boat to ferry his friend to a sea-going vessel, he reflects on his experience of life in London, full of degeneration and utter deterioration on all fronts-social, moral and political.
2. Recollection of the past glory : The poet recalls what London was when the Queen Elizabeth sat on her throne there. That was a time of all round glory and advancement of the country in every sphere/land or sea, war or commerce.
3. Reflections on the existing state in London : The poet finds now nothing safe and good in the city. Crime and corruption seem to control the city. Malice, rapine, ambush are here relentless and unsparing. Worth and quality remain unprized and humiliated. Bribery, flattery, dishonesty and piracy are free and falsehood takes the place of truth. Learning and knowledge are spurned, while stern virtue is overthrown by undeserved pride with political pampering. Nothning is safe—the man’s life or the virgin innocence. Poverty is hated and persecuted and servitude hailed.
4. The poet’s exhortations (oricahal) : Such a state is disastrous. The poet exhorts his people to rise up and get over such a state of degeneration. He reminds them not merely of the august (11) queen Elizabeth, but also of the king Edward Third and Henry Fifth. They stand out as inspiring illustrations to get rid of the reign of vices and scorns. It is the high time for them to be the foe to vice and the friend to virtue and live in piety and freedom, and not in levity and servitude.
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