London – William Blake

AQA English Literature – Power & Conflict

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As you can see from this picture and the marks on it, there have been a number of poems already covered on this website, but this post aims to begin to address the rest, starting with ‘London’ by William Blake.

London – Wm. Blake

I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

If you have ever gone somewhere and seen the people and thought to yourself, oh these poor people, this is the kind of thing that Blake is referring to in this poem, which explains his visits to London when he was alive and his reaction to it. In terms of power and conflict, the conflict is in the relationship between those that have and those who do not. The power is exerted by those of wealth and position. That is the way it has always been and unless we do something better, it is the way it will stay too. So Blake’s poem is quite a polemic one in that it is trying to teach us something about life in London at that time.

He says that when he visited, he “wandered through each chartered street,” or through all those streets where surveyors ply their trade. The reference could be a link to the idea of chartered surveyors, or even accountants, with the truth more likely being the latter due to their dealing with money. The streets are “near where the chartered Thames does flow,” which again suggests some form of office near the river. Perhaps, it could even be the offices for the people who work the shipping ports, the clerks of the time who would make sure every packet and parcel was allocated for in their paperwork. ‘Chartered,” therefore could mean a lot of things, but when you link it with the “mark in every face” that he meets, this is showing you the rough end of the capitol.

When he meets these characters, all too like a character in a Dickens novel, he sees signs of “weakness, marks of woe” and that saddens him that we still treat people like this, so harshly at times. Due to this lifestyle, where there are rich offices and poor people working, we see the dichotomy of the rich and the poor living cheek by jowl with their neighbours, at the time and in that place, a dirty and grimy capitol. In everyone he meets, he hears an “infant’s cry of fear” which is indicative of the fear that such a place brings to the senses. Wherever he turns, he cannot get away from the rank poverty, the smell, the sense of loneliness and isolation in such a huge place as this. It is a sprawling metropolis before him rank with the stench of a hardened workforce.

The reference to the noise is an interesting one, for me, because it counterpoints the noise of the voice with the noise of the forges in the factories or even, the offices. But he hears “mind-forged manacles” that bind a man in service to his job each time he turns up for work. “Mind-forged” is very interesting indeed because of the juxtaposition of the two words together. A forge made in the mind is one possible meaning. But there might be others too and when he then hears “how the chimney-sweeper’s cry” can be heard atop the houses of London in some all too rather sad rendition of the Julie Andres classic film, Mary Poppins, we see the sadness that pervades and the conflict that such a poor life brings. But this is the serious end of the spectrum, not the humorous. Being a sweep is not a glamorous profession. Being a sweep in those days is something that does not lead to wealth and prosperity.

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Everywhere he goes, he sees things that diminish the joy of life in him, sights like a “blackening church” which appalls him to the core. I too loathe such things even now because it makes them not look cared for. But in Blake’s day, the sensation would be that there can be nothing worse than living in this place and seeing these sights and knowing that there is possibly not a lot you can do about it to rectify the situation. He hears a “hapless soldier’s sigh” in the distance as he sees and feels the sense of desperation and helplessness overwhelm him to the point where all he can see is what “runs in blood down palace walls.” It is, for him becoming a place he would sooner not be because there is no praise in this poem, yet.

As he travels through the streets of London, he is able to observe many different things, most notably that the lady of the street, or prostitute, shouts out her calls to lure men into bed with her. The “youthful harlots curse” that is mentioned is mentioned in the solace of the “midnight street” where she is able to also find out exactly what happens to that curse, as it is spread out over the confines of the street and anyone who walks into it is caught in its sway. It might be a harlot’s curse that is being thrown here, but is it, or could it be, that this metaphorical or even euphemistically held position in life allows him to see the harlot, hear her curse of someone who is not paying for her wares as well as making too much noise in the street.

The writer can hear the sound of a new born infant, but can also choose to ignore it and when you don’t, then you have to have a relationship with them in a positive and loving manner. The poem suggests that this does not happen in Pakistan or India where the world in blighted by lack of crops and the likes. Modernity, if you like, is the modern plague and causes pestilence wherever it exists and Blake is making reference to this in his poem. There is so much hate and greed in this world of ours and we need someone to sort this mess out. Anything that suffers with “blights” and has trouble with “plagues [of the] the marriage-hearse” is a troubled place indeed.

This is a poet who may like coming to London, but when he gets there, he sees other things that make him lose interest and turn off his affections for his capital city. London should be a blessing in disguise for him but it isn’t because he does not share such as this in his poems. What is evident is a cynicism and criticism of the place for being so dank and dirty. That is where the conflict appears in this poem, when and where it does so, but also, where the power is exerted over one person or another in life, where the poem shares the dichotomy between the two polar opposites in the life of the Londoner.

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Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare

I was asked recently to assist someone who was studying this play. One of the first things I did with this student was to centre on the key factors, so I am sharing the file here.

Date: Approx. 1598 and performed as a ‘mature’ comedy rather than a farce. Usually, a writer creates something because someone or something has inspired them. Much Ado About Nothing follows an Italianate style of stories of lovers being deceived into believing each other are false, which were very common in northern Italy in the sixteenth century. Shakespeare’s immediate source could have been one of these stories. One version of the Claudio/Hero plot is told by Edmund Spenser in The Fairie Queen, a English epic poem written in 1590.

Setting: Messina, Italy.

Characters

Benedick – honourable and witty, self aware and cynical

Beatrice – dependent and witty, articulate and stubborn

Don Pedro – powerful and patriarchal

Don John – an honest villain, a social pariah

Claudio – romantic hero, honourable gentleman

Hero – romantic and dutiful, submissive and innocent

Dogberry – ignorant and self important

Margaret – bawdy, humorous, witty

Leonato – benign ruler who is warm and respectful; proud

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Plot: Soldiers from the war return home. Benedick and Beatrice are matched because of a trick played on them by their friends and through a convoluted plot, they come to realise that the one they think they hate is actually the one they love. The comedy is in the way that trick is played out successfully by their match making friends and how an unrequited love turns into a requited relationship based and bound in love. They marry at the end and there is a celebration.

Summary: A 5 act play in the usual Shakespearean fashion. Classified as a comedy but there are elements of tragedy and tragic irony in there as well.

Act Summary

Act 1

  • Leonato gets some news that some soldiers are returning from the war. He feels honoured to host them as guests.
  • Don Pedro brings his ‘bastard’ brother, or half brother
  • Claudio is a young nobleman who is at the party
  • He notices Hero, the daughter of Leonato and falls in love with her
  • Beatrice is Leonato’s niece. She asks after Benedick, but when they meet, although they know each other a long time, the only thing they do is argue
  • Claudio tells Benedick and Don Pedro of his love for Hero. Don Pedro promises to woo her for him because he is shy
  • A servant overhears this and thinks Don Pedro is in love with Hero
  • Leonato’s brother tells Leonato this
  • Don John is resentful of all this scheming and of Claudio and vows to subvert all their plans

Act 2

  • Don John makes a first attempt to confuse things by spreading a rumour about Don Pedro wanting Hero for himself
  • The plot is discovered
  • Then there is a second plan, much worse – he gets Claudio to think that Hero is unfaithful
  • He gets Hero’s servant to dress up as Hero and play out a love scene to be overheard by Claudio and Don Pedro
  • Don Pedro, Leonato, Claudio and Hero notice how alike Beatrice and Benedick are and plan to trick them into falling in love
  • They plan a light hearted scheme to make this happen and get Benedick to overhear things
  • He is shocked at this ‘news’ and resolves to make her love him

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Act 3

  • The plotters begin their little scheme. Hero and Ursula make Beatrice overhear their conversation about how Benedick has feelings for Beatrice. Don Pedro and Leonato do the same with Benedick
  • Beatrice now thinks Benedick will not let her know of his love because he fears her tongue and sarcasm
  • Don John’s plan for Hero begins to take effect. He says he has proof of her infidelity
  • the comic characters of Dogberry, Verges and The Watch play out a scene within the play that shows misconception and misunderstanding. It is a play within a play
  • They overhear Conrade and Borachio planning Don John’s venture and arrest them both
  • They report the arrest to Leonato but he is too busy to listen

Act 4

  • Claudio denounces Hero for her alleged wrong doing
  • It is done at a wedding, in a very public manner
  • She protests her innocence but not many want to believe her except Beatrice, Benedick and Friar Francis
  • Hero faints from the shock of all this
  • The priest comes up with a plan [like in Romeo and Juliet]
  • The plan is to fake Hero’s death so Claudio realises how silly he has been
  • She is to whisked away after her fake death
  • Beatrice and Benedick are now united in their sorrow for Hero
  • Beatrice and Benedick express their love for each other
  • Beatrice tells Benedick to kill Claudio for slandering her friend
  • He agrees, reluctantly, to do it
  • The three fools discover the plot by Don John and Don John flees in disgrace
  • It is announced that Hero has died of shock

Act 5 

  • Leonato and Benedick both challenge Don Pedro and Claudio to take back their words about Hero
  • They refuse to do so and when Dogberry and Verges enters with the prisoners, they are forced to see the truth of the event
  • They realise their mistake and Claudio is shocked at the death of Hero
  • He promises Leonato he will do anything to preserve the memory of Hero
  • Leonato makes him promise to marry his niece instead
  • At the wedding, Leonato’s niece is unmasked as Hero
  • Claudio is forgiven, Beatrice and Benedick make a public confession that they love each other
  • News reaches Messina that Don John has been captured and that he will be punished
  • The play ends with a party and celebration where everyone is happy again

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The Trick – Imthiaz Dharker

The Trick

Imthiaz Dharker

In a wasted time, it’s only when I sleep
that all my senses come awake. In the wake
of you, let day not break. Let me keep
the scent, the weight, the bright of you, take
the countless hours and count them all night through
till that time comes when you come to the door
of dreams, carrying oranges that cast a glow
up into your face. Greedy for more
than the gift of seeing you, I lean in to taste
the colour, kiss it off your offered mouth.
For this, for this, I fall asleep in haste,
willing to fall for the trick that tells the truth
that even your shade makes darkest absence bright,
that shadows live wherever there is light.

Analysis

I love a good sonnet. 14 lines of poetry packaged all into one little format, with so many stylistic devices being used by the poet. It is a microcosm of magnificence in all literature, whether in the Shakespearean, Petrarchan, or any other form.

This one is no different from the rest in that it is a poem that classifies love as something that is so beautiful to share and to have in your life, whilst at the same time, being the source of so much conflict. If you have ever really loved someone, you will know what it is like to be parted from them and this, in a way, is what the poet is sharing here, a sense of wanting to feel, to touch, to taste, to smell her lover near her all the days of her life. It is, in essence, a poem that shows the epitome or eros love, or real love, as some would think it, the kind of love where you are pained when you are separate from each other for more than a short time.

Dharker begins with the idea of “a wasted time,” but this is not the kind where we waste time by daydreaming or dawdling all day. This “wasted time” is the time when you are asleep and you cannot normally and physically experience your lover and his love in real, tangible terms. “In a wasted time,” she says, “it’s only when I sleep that all my senses come awake.” When we are awake, we can be guarded, careful, cautious and thoughtful about anyone and anything. We can love but hold back that love, adding conflict into a relationship. We can give that love away and we can get to the point where our affections for someone else can wain and vanish. But, she is saying, in the dream state, when our body is relaxed, that is when the truest nature of our affections and emotions can show themselves, in the dreams we have of another.

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Is waking life a waste of time? Is that what she is suggesting? For it is only when she sleeps that her senses “come awake?” It sounds like she is saying that this is the only place she feels really free to express her emotions. It is only “in the wake of you,” or in the waking sense of her lover, that she wishes day would not break, so that she could continue where the sense of love resides for her in its truest form; in her heart and mind. Then come the requests, from either God, or time or fate, or whatever you feel runs this universe of ours, to let her “keep the scent, the weight, the bright” of her lover near her. Have you ever missed someone so much that you can smell them nearby, or in the air, in their clothing, or by just opening a door and smelling their perfume or aftershave? It is that kind of sense she is wishing to hold onto, as if she has maybe lost someone close to her, or is separated by the miles of life that separate us from our loved ones.

She wishes to “take the countless hours and count them all night through,” thinking about her lover “till that time comes when you come to the door of dreams,” so she can see her [or him] again in the newness of the dawn’s light and radiance. In that way, she will see her lover anew each day, but only in her dreams can she remember and see her lover in the perfect way. I can remember when my father passed. At times, we did not get on, but I loved the old codger and when he died in 1999, I was plagued by dreams for months about him. They were the fun times we had running through my mind when my mind had lost its ability to block such things. Those dreams hurt me at the time and it took me some time to realise that he had actually gone from this world, even though I had been there at his funeral. So it is possible to see this poem in this way as well, for it resonates with me as a grieving son as well as someone who loves his wife dearly and could not be without her. If you are thinking of a poem to compare this one with, then you could look at Remember, by Christina Rossetti, where she says for her lover to remember her when she has gone.

She asks for her senses to see her lover come to her “ carrying oranges that cast a glow” into that person’s face. This is an interesting image, for it could be argued that this means that rather like a buttercup, a bunch of something readily available in the country where this is set, like ours or even somewhere else, makes it so that there seems to be a ruddy glow on the face of a person carrying oranges to bring to the home because of a reflection. This is a woman who is “greedy for more than the gift of seeing” her lover. Seeing is one thing, but there are so many other senses with which you would observe and take in the love of your life. She says that in her dreams, she leans in “to taste the colour, kiss it off [that] offered mouth,” as if a kiss has been offered by her lover. It is one of those moments, as a lover, where you find it irresistible to ignore. When your love asks for a kiss, you sidle in and make it a good one, because if you don’t then that can mean all manner of things, can’t it?

“For this, for this, I fall asleep in haste,” she says to the reader, offering and sharing her desires with us all as we wade into her emotions and see the extent of her love. This is a woman of passion, a woman who loves and a woman who adores the person she is thinking of, which leads us to the “trick” of light that happens and makes her think her lover is with her when s/he is not. She is all too “willing to fall for the trick” a shadow plays when she thinks her lover is there, when s/he is not. If you have ever woken up from a dream and wondered that there is someone close to you, then it is this trick of the senses that the poem is talking about and for someone who is parted from their love, by circumstance or death, then this would happen. Such a trick “tells the truth” about something and makes a person’s shade turn the most “darkest absence bright,” because of hope in seeing that person again; seeing them, feeling their presence, sensing their smell and light that they have or had. For this woman, the “shadows live wherever there is light,” which does suggest that in some way, this sense of separation is causing her joy but also pain. This is where her sense of conflict comes in this poem, because she cannot have that physical experience of her lover at the time but only when in dreamland, can she really feel as if she is in the arms of the one she loves.

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Love and conflict. They go hand in hand with most love stories or love poems. In life, you see, when we love, we sometimes fight. Just think of a love story made into a film and you can bet that there is some form of conflict in that storyline. That, right there, is conflict within a loving relationship. No one likes to have their feelings hurt, or their wishes ignored. No one likes it when someone they love does something wrong and causes conflict and whichever way we read this poem [and there will be many because no answer is a wrong answer; we all approach poetry from our differing experiences of life] we will always see that there is conflict at the heart of this poem as well as a deep and abiding love. This is why this is such a good poem to write about.

Now, you have a go at writing your own thoughts about this poem. Then do it for each of the ones you have read and studied. It will be good practice for the examinations. And then, write about two of them, comparing and contrasting them, saying how they are similar and how they are different.