The PoetWilliam Blake was a poet and artist who specialised in illuminated texts, often of a religious nature. He rejected established religion for various reasons. One of the main ones was the failure of the established Church to help children in London who were forced to work. Blake lived and worked in the capital, so was arguably well placed to write clearly about the conditions people who lived there faced.
Songs of Innocence and of ExperiencePublished in 1794, this collection of poems, fully illustrated and originally hand-printed by Blake, aimed to show the "Two Contrary States of the Human Soul". The Songs of Innocence section contains poems which are positive in tone and celebrate love, childhood and nature. The Songs of Experience poems are obviously intended to provide a contrast, and illustrate the effects of modern life on people and nature. Dangerous industrial conditions, child labour, prostitution and poverty are just some of the topics Blake explores.
The French RevolutionIn 1789, the French people revolted against the monarchy and aristocracy, using violence and murder to overthrow those in power. Many saw the French Revolution as inspirational - a model for how ordinary, disadvantaged people could seize power. Blake alludes to the revolution in London, arguably suggesting that the experience of living there could encourage a revolution on the streets of the capital.
Subject matterThe poem describes a journey around London, offering a glimpse of what the speaker sees as the terrible conditions faced by the inhabitants of the city. Child labour, restrictive laws of property and prostitution are all explored in the poem.
The poem starts with a criticism of laws relating to ownership. The 'charter'd Thames' is a bitter reference to the way in which every aspect of life in London is owned, even the river, so often in...