Compare and contrast the different images of London contained in the two poems ‘London Snow’ and ‘London’.
‘London Snow’ presents an image of happiness, playfulness and excitement; however ‘London’ is its antithesis, with nothing but doom, gloom, sadness and death. ‘London Snow’ was written by Robert Bridges (1844 – 1930) and ‘London’ was written by William Blake (1757 – 1827). The dates when these people lived are arguably important. Generally speaking, life was better when Bridges was alive than when Blake was alive. Bridges may have lived during the most brutal and destructive event the world has ever seen in the shape of World War 1, however domestically life had improved until 1914, for example the Liberal government of the early 1900s tried to help the poor and the elderly. This improvement of lifestyle could explain the extreme differences between the poems, and why Bridges poem is happier, as I believe the poem was written round about 1900.
The normal day-to day life of London is very busy and rushed, and the city itself is quite polluted, and as previously mentioned, the noise is very loud due to cars, factories etc. Small problems such as this can affect people’s morale and happiness, but there are certain things that can at least temporarily make people feel a bit happier, can add a spring to their step, and the below quote is a perfect example of this.
“When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.”
Above is the opening of the poem ‘London Snow’. Snow is almost likened to magic, as it hushes the noise of the traffic and hides the hostility that can often be found within a large but compressed city such as London. However, the snow acts as a temporary cover for the doom and gloom of city life and gives an image of a sense of heavenly brightness. The opening of the poem ‘London’ is rather different.
“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.”
The language of this quote is first person, as the author is referring back to himself because he is wandering through the streets. London is a very large city, one of the biggest and probably the best known city in the entire world. The author describes the weakness and woe he sees in every face, as he wanders through each street. For the author to see such widespread unhappiness and dissatisfaction on this level means there is a huge problem. The opening of ‘London Snow’ may admit that the snow is just a temporary cover for the doom and gloom of city life, but there is nowhere near as much unhappiness described; which as I mentioned earlier could be linked to a sign of the different times and how life has changed, although still far from perfect.
“And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marveled – marveled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear harkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.”
Above is the second part of the poem ‘London Snow’. People have now woken, and have seen a daytime with artificial qualities. There is no sound as the people are silenced by the magnificence of the snow, the normal ‘busy morning cries’ were nowhere to be seen or heard. People have even woken earlier due to the brightness of the white snow, opposed to the normal black clouds of pollution from factories. The reader is left in a sense of anticipation that the mood is going to grow better, happier, with the snow acting as a morale raiser, albeit temporary. This is certainly a different impression to what the reader sees in the second part of ‘London’:
“In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear.
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind forg’d manacles I hear:
How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down the palace walls;”
The language of this quote is in the form of a synecdoche with the repeat of the word ‘every’ emphasizing the widespread unhappiness of all people. The word ‘manacles’ is an important one, as this emphasizes how people have no space to think or voice opinions as their mind is restrained. An important piece of imagery is the soldier’s blood down the palace walls. This could suggest that a soldier died trying to defend the palace, died whilst just doing his job and is the epitome of the widespread unhappiness within London. The black imagery created by the Chimney sweeper ties in with the red blood, with black and red being the colours of hell and in this case, representing London. This imagery is a stark contrast towards the image of London in the poem ‘London Snow’:
“Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,
‘O look at the trees!’ they cried, ‘O look at the trees!’
The over-riding theme of this quote is happiness. The boys were playing, chucking snowballs, completely immersed within the snow with no care in the world. To them it must have been as if they had died in the normal London and taken off to a better, more heavenly place. The white snow emphasizes the colour of heaven. The beauty of the trees took them back since the snow had fallen, and were living in paradise; however this seems almost impossible to believe when the ‘other’ side of London comes across in the final part of the poem ‘London’.
‘But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.’
This quote is written in a very pessimistic way, with the only emotion coming across being sadness. The author is presumably talking about the young people of London at night, who would go out and drink, have a bit of ‘harmless fun’; although Harlot’s curse could also be referring to a type of disease which could make life miserable for everybody, and in this case, children and married couples are doomed right from the start because of this ‘Harlot’s curse’. There is nothing positive anyone could draw from the above quote, and the same can be said about the final part of ‘London Snow’.
“For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.”
People have seen and admired the snow, but now they think back to the harsh realities of life and start to think about doing their work. Snow has gone from being a magical, joyful and welcomed presence to a hindrance that people could do without. The city has reverted back to being a polluted industrial living hell; and the dreamy, magical place is but a memory that people would rather not care to remember. People once happy and excited, have now been forced to go back to how they once were; sad and depressed with the realities of life dragging down their morale to the lowest level possible. The people do not know a good thing when they see one, and have now broken the magical spell of the snow.
Overall, I feel that London comes across as a loud, noisy, polluted and unhappy place in both the poems, however in ‘London Snow’ the snow hides all of this, for a while at least. Both poems refer back to famous landmarks within London, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and the river Thames. Both poems start and finish with a sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, an important similarity, given that both poems are about London. Another interesting similarity between the two poems is that women are never included, only boys and men are mentioned.
This is very much a sign of the times; women were not even allowed to vote at this time, and the common belief was that men were superior to women, and that a woman’s job was to be a housewife, and not to pursue a career. The colour contrast between the two poems is important. ‘London Snow’ has the white colour of snow for a while, therefore stressing its likeness to heaven. ‘London’ has the black and red colours of hell, stressing its likeness to hell. This can be a comparison and a contrast as both poems use colour to relate London to better or worse places, but both poems also use different colours.
There are also a few contrasts between the two poems however. ‘London Snow’ tries to portray a sense of happiness, however, all good things come to an end and sure enough, this was temporary. However, this is better than the continual sense of sadness portrayed in the poem ‘London’. The times when these poems were written are roughly a century apart, and although their image of London remains very similar, there are some important differences caused by the snow, as London is represented as a beautiful, almost perfect place in ‘London Snow’. However I would imagine that William Blake could never foresee a time when London could possibly be referred to as such, given the unhappiness of everyone within and the lack of hope for the future. The beautiful London imagery did not last too long though, before the unhappiness and pollution of everyday life crept back into the poem to break the magical spell placed on London by the snow.