Text of the Poem

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 blackning 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


  1. The noun “hearse” refers to a vehicle that transports a coffin to a grave. Blake likely alludes to the prevalence of prostitution and its role in spreading venereal disease throughout the city. Married men who slept with prostitutes, or “harlots,” could inadvertently transmit diseases to their wives and unborn children, with disastrous consequences. The unexpected phrase “Marriage hearse” suggests that the problem may be rooted in the marriage arrangement itself, which was forced on people by the “blackning Church.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Each line of the final stanza is enjambed. Enjambment is a device in which an idea or phrase that begins in one line flows into the next, rather than concluding—through punctuation—at the end of aline. Here, enjambment generates a foreboding tone and momentum that intensifies the speaker’s disturbing description of what was likely the spread of venereal disease throughout London.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Line eleven features sibilance, or the repetition of words that contain the consonant “s” sound. By including the sibilant words “hapless,” “soldiers,” and “sigh,” Blake lends a musical quality to the line when read aloud, thus emphasizing the sonic imagery that the speaker experiences on his walk.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The adjective “hapless” means to be unfortunate or to have bad luck. Blake’s description of soldiers’ blood painting palace walls suggests that the soldiers are unfortunate and helpless, and the government is responsible for their deaths. He may also be alluding to the bloody French Revolution, which was still raging while he was writing “London.” Many in England feared that the social problems plaguing their cities would result in similar insurrection.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The noun “manacle” refers to a metal shackle or band used to bind a person’s hands or ankles, especially if they are imprisoned. Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles” are not literal, however; he uses an indirect metaphor, or a device comparing two things by stating or implying that they are the same, to suggest that people suffer from psychological and social imprisonment. The speaker implies that people have brought this suffering upon themselves.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The repetition of the words “in every” at the beginning of lines five, six, and seven is an example of anaphora. Anaphora is a device in which words are repeated at the beginning of successive lines, thus repeating rhythm while also emphasizing whatever follows the repeated words. Blake’s use of anaphora organizes the auditory qualities of the dismal scene, so that readers are not overwhelmed with a list of details that might prevent them from engaging more closely with the suffering being described.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Line four contains a caesura, or a break within a line of verse that usually takes the form of punctuation. Blake’s use of a comma to divide the phrases “marks of weakness” and “marks of woe” isolates each, emphasizing the intense suffering of the people in London. The pause created by the caesura also varies the rhythm of the line, encouraging readers to take notice of the speaker’s specific words.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The repetition of the word “mark” in lines three and four is an example of antanaclasis. Antanaclasis is a device in which repeated words mean something different with each repetition. Here, the verb “to mark” first means to see or take notice of something, such as the faces of those around the speaker. In the following line, the noun “mark” refers to evidence, or a symbol, of something—in this case, evidence of suffering on Londoners’ faces.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Blake uses repetition in lines one and two. By repeating the adjective “chartered,” the poem’s speaker highlights a major problem in London at the time Blake was writing: the practice of “chartering,” or selling private spaces to members of the upper class. Repetition extends the scope of this practice onto the river Thames itself, establishing a tone of disapproval.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor