Wednesday, February 11, 2009

London by Blake

We talked about William Blake's social issue poems in class this past week, and I thought it would be interesting to illustrate his poem London with pictures of poverty in today's Chicago.

By William Blake (1794)

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,

There are an estimated 110,000 people without homes in Chicago today. A flourishing drug epidemic and the bitter cold winters claim many of these less fortunate.

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

Chicago contains 10 of the nation's 16 poorest neighborhoods. One half of the city's children are impoverished.

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blacknng Church appalls.
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

Chicago gang violence is some of the worst of the nation. In the past year, there have been 469 homicides in the city, one of the worst in years. Many of these are gang related.

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

The life of a prostitute is not easy in Chicago. The average prostitute is beaten up once a month by a client. They also fall into heavy drug use, debt, and poverty.

It seems clear that the face of poverty has not changed much in 200 years. Blake's bleak view of London has many parallels here in Chicago.


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