Learning check

1. Memory, vocabulary

No study aids. 

a) Check if you know the first stanza by heart:


I wander_____________________________________________________________________________


Near where___________________________________________________________________________


And mark____________________________________________________________________________


Marks of_____________________________________________________________________________



b) The narrator gives three specific examples of the victims of oppression. Who are they?


1. __________________________________________________________________________________


2. __________________________________________________________________________________


3. __________________________________________________________________________________



c) Name three words expressing anger:


1. __________________________________________________________________________________


2. __________________________________________________________________________________


3. __________________________________________________________________________________



d) Name three (near) synonyms of “blame” (verb)


1. __________________________________________________________________________________


2. __________________________________________________________________________________


3. __________________________________________________________________________________



Learning check

2. Critical statements

 In groups

1. Which comment/s do you find best match/es your view of the text? Try to reach agreement. 

        a) What lies behind this poem is a terrible indictment – of injustice, certainly, but also of lack of


        b) Blake’s “London” is a revolutionary document which ferociously attacks the corruption of 

 urban life.

        c) Despite the fury of the attack on the institutions of the time, Blake’s “London” always 

 retains its tone of compassion and suffering.

        d) In “London” we see a city which is truly a vision of hell – of life after the Fall.

        e) In “London” Blake’s angry denunciation of social institutions never loses sight of the way an

 individual is enslaved by his or her own fear and brutality.

        f)  In “London” Blake seems to be writing in the tradition of the popular ballad, but his 

 apocalyptic vision of life in the city goes beyond a mere protest against social injustice.


(All the statements except the first are from Gillian Lazar, Literature and Language Teaching. CUP 1993. The first is from David Punter (York Notes Advanced) William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, page 63)


2. Write your own critical statement.








Wider contexts

1. Literary context: other poem by the same author

“The Ecchoing Green”, p. 201. 


Compare the two poems. Single out differences and similarities in content, language, metre, and tone.


Wider contexts

2. Literary context: other poem by a different author

William Wordsworth, ”Composed upon Westminster Bridge”, p. 217. 

Compare Blake’s view of London in “London” and Wordsworth’s view of London in “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”. Single out differences and similarities and comment on both poets’ attitudes toward the city. Back up your answers with quotes from the texts.


Wider contexts

3. Literary context: other poem by a different author

W.H. Auden, “The Unknown Citizen”, p. 19. 

Compare the two poems. Single out similarities and differences in content, language, metre and tone.



Wider contexts

4. Literary context: other text by a different author

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), who was a modernist writer, was one of the major writers in English in the first half of the twentieth century. He was born in the US in St. Louis, Missouri, attended Harvard University and later the Sorbonne in Paris and Oxford University in England. He spent the years of the First World War in England where he worked as a schoolmaster, in banking and finally as an editor and publisher. He became a British citizen in 1927 and about the same time he entered the Anglican church. He was an influential poet, critic and playwright. Both in Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), his first volume of poetry, and in The Waste Land (1922) Eliot focused on the spiritual emptiness of modern city life and the poems mirror the disillusionment of the post-war generation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.


a) Find the poem on the internet by googling “T.S. Eliot’s poem Preludes”. Read the poem and answer these questions:

Comprehension and analysis

  1. In groups, read the poem aloud.
  2. Stanza 1:

        a)      What time of the year and time of the day is it?

        b)      How is the city described?

    • List the negative words. What is the effect?
    • Are there any images taken from nature?
    • Comment on the image ”the burnt-out ends of smoky days”

        c)      Who is ”you”?


  1. Stanza 2:

        a)      What time of the day is it?

        b)      Is the smell the same as in stanza 1?

        c)      Is dirt mentioned?

        d)     Why only “feet” and “hands”? Why not “people”?

        e)      Comment on the use of the word “masquerades” The ALD defines “masquerade” as an 

action that appears to be genuine or sincere but is not.

        f)       Who is “One”?

        g)      What people live in furnished rooms?


  1. Stanza 3:

        a)      Who are ”You”?

        b)      Why is the persons’s soul constituted of a thousand sordid images?

        c)      What vision? Is the woman aware of her situation?

        d)     What words link this stanza with the previous stanzas?

        e)      What is the time?

        f)       Do we feel pity or disgust with this woman?


  1. Stanza 4:

        a)      ”His soul” – Is it  another inhabitant or is it an outside observer?

        b)      ”stretched tight” – Is it  a pleasant or unpleasant image? How is the man affected?

        c)      ”trampled” – how does that feel?

        d)     Find words that give the impression of

  • meaningless routine
  • lack of sensitivity
  • lack of imagination and spirituality

        e)     ”and eyes/Assured of certain certainties”: Are the ”certain certainties” money, food, etc. or pain, 

loneliness, death ...?

        f)      Try to explain ”the conscience of a blackened street/Impatient to assume the world”

        g)     Who is ”I”?

        h)     What is his/her reaction to the things and the people s/he sees?

        i)      Who is ”you”?

        j)      “Wipe your hand across your mouth” – what attitude does the gesture express?

        k)     Is the poet ready to wipe his hand across his mouth and laugh at human suffering?

        l)      Try to explain the last two lines of the poem.

        m)    Does the image of the women stress hope or hopelessness?

        n)     Does the image arouse our pity or our scorn and derision?


Overall questions

  1. Why are the individual characters in the poem only referred to by pronouns? And why the uncertainty as to who precisely they are?
  2. What is the overall picture of city life in the poem?
  3. Is the tone of the poem scornful, compassionate, cynical, pitiful, pessimistic, outraged, melancholy, indifferent
  4. In what way is the time structure of the poem important to the interpretation of the poem?
  5. Can the last three lines be seen as a symbolic summary of the poem? Discuss.
  6. What is the theme of the poem?

the desolation, loneliness, isolation, monotony of  life in the city,

the stupidity, selfishness, materialism and insensitivity of people living in a city,

or …

  1. How do you explain the title? To what is the poem a prelude?
  2. What are the similarities and differences between this poem and Blake’s poem “London” 


b) T.S. Eliot wrote the poem “Preludes” about city life over one hundred years after Blake’s “London”. Compare the two poems focusing on tone, form and the views expressed on life in the city. Which of the two poems do you prefer and why? State your reasons.  

You may choose to do this task as a written assignment.


’prelude  præludium; forspil

passageway  gyde
gusty  blæsende
grimy [’graimi]  smudsig
’vacant lots  tomme byggegrunde
blind  skodde
chimney-pot  skorstenspibe
cab  drosche, hyrevogn

faint svag
stale  gammel, sur
sawdust-trampled street gader med savsmuld, som folk har trampet i
’masquerade  maskerade, komediespil
re’sume  genoptage, begynde igen
dingy snavset, lurvet
furnished  møbleret

doze   døse
sordid  snavset, smudsig
’constituted  sammensat
shutter vinduesskodde
gutter  rendesten
papers  papilotter
sole  (fod)sål
soiled   snavset

in’sistent  vedholdende
assured of  sikker på, overbevist om
a’ssume  overtage                                                                                                              
fancy  forestilling, tanke
notion  idé, forestilling
’infinitely  uendelig
re’volve  dreje rundt
fuel  brændsel


Wider contexts

5. Historical context: the Industrial Revolution

Find information about the Industrial Revolution and the new industrial towns that appeared in Britain during Blake’s lifetime. Does your knowledge of the historical context in which the poem was written enhance your understanding of the poem? Why/why not?


Wider contexts

6. Literary Period: The Romantic Period

Does Blake’s “London” fit in with your background knowledge? Be as specific as you can. See Toolbox Literary Periods, The Romantic Period