The Rejected Cry: A Stylistic Analysis of Blake’s London By Trudy A. Martinez
Blake reveals the inner logic (the logos) of his poem London, first through the artistic arrangement of his plate (see figure 1 below). Here a child is seen in a path of light guiding an old man toward a door as if he were blind, lost, and in need of assistance. And then, in keeping with this illustrated theme (together with placement, usage, and meaning), Blake etches and imprints a portrait of a society and invites the reader to see London (figure 2) through his eyes. In his quest, he leads the reader’s eye toward sight like a blind man toward what can not be seen but only heard. In the process, he establishes a society of man, paralleling what is heard to what is seen and visible through symbolic color imagery, thus creating a sense of balance. But then, he abruptly takes away the sense of balance, leaving the reader discerning for himself while emotionally groping like a blind man for the key to the structure and questioning why did this happen?
The emotional appeal (the ethos) takes form with the formation of a hypotaxis that “lets us know . . . what derives from what” (Lanham 33), while at the same time, sets a play on words in motion; this is best illustrated by the Placement and Usage Chart (figure 3). Even though parts of speech are assigned each word, some words lack a sincere devotion to that particular assignment and induce the meaning of another. For instance, the form of the last word (ban) in the string of prepositional phrases is that of a verb but used as a noun in context. The effect prohibits the placement of the subject on the same level of existence, consciousness, or development. According to Lanham with the development of “a hypotactic style,” you are encouraged “to read from top to bottom as well as from left to right”(44). Every right column “top-to-bottom reading represents a rank” of society in descending order while each left-to-right reading of the right column represents “a movement down from one rank to another” (Lanham 44). For instance, “the charter’d streets” symbolizes the upper-class who own the land where “charter’d” action takes place, earning them their place at the top. The deviant usage of the word, charter’d ( a verb out of context used as an adjective in context), “heightens awareness and understanding” (Chapman 27), bringing a sense of action to the descriptive. Repetition intensifies meaning and petitions dual significance. When industry engages the “charter’d Thames” and transports goods for a stipulated price, they pay very little for labor requirements. Consequently, the string of prepositional phrases, representing the various levels of the middle class and working class, reflect “marks of weakness [and] marks of woe” that mirror their suffering. The dual usage of the word mark emphasizes the narrator’s ability to see the consequential outcome of the situation.
“The left column, read by itself top-to-bottom, establishes the top-ranking basic assertion” (Lanham 44) made by the narrator. The anaphora: I + wander, (I) + mark, I + meet, I + hear represents the narrator’s path through London which builds the structure of the poem, linking both the stanzas and the societal participants together, while at the same time, expressing what is seen “in every face” and heard in the voice “of every man” who accepts the prevailing customs that produces the “Infants tear.” A pun is intended on tear because a tear (separation) has occurred that separates the participants (a child from both parents) and makes them (the mother and child) undeserving of voice through “every ban,” keeping them oppressed and barred from acceptance. Hence, “mind-forg’d manacles” prevents upward movement.
The lower-class, positioned at the bottom left of the chart, are held down beneath the weight of their affliction by “the mind-forg’d manacles.” Influences or “specific details” that affect their part of the structured society are represented to the right of their position. For instance, the unfortunate Soldiers, who may have lost their limbs in the service of their country, can be seen as losing favor in the eyes of the government since no action (or action word (Verb)) describes the cause of their sigh. Instead, they are the recipients of “Runs” in blood.” Here again, the word “runs” lacks a sincere devotion to a particular part of speech. In other words, “runs” as a noun implies a freedom of movement of a continuous series in uninterrupted course of events from one point to another; whereas, as a verb the meaning takes a different direction and becomes converted to a liquid state as if a pursuit of a different subject (blood) with the purpose to deprive the meaning of life because of the object’s (Palace) refusal to admit an injustice. However, in keeping with the hypotaxis style, the word is a noun that demonstrates that there are two levels of existence, consciousness, and development apparent in the presentation. Runs as a subject has a predicate (down) that states firmly, positively, and assuredly, multiple meanings exist because of its capability of assuming multiple roles within a sentence (see figure 4). Together Runs and down trace the source of the affliction brought upon the Soldiers as a result of their being forgotten and left to die on the streets of London.
Since Blake wandered the streets of London, he came to see and he came to know the destructive nature of this society. Blake has a true gift of recognizing, describing, and establishing blame using symbols. His description of pain and suffering are open and recognizable, whereas when he places blame for wrongful actions, he does so using symbols as if to say, I am not the judge, but I cannot close my eyes to the apparent injustice I view. I believe Blake wrote this poem to shed light ( for us, his reader’s) on his subjects, i.e., the chimney sweepers, soldiers, and Infants, by bringing knowledge of their circumstances through his poem. Consequently, he is capable of leading the reader’s eye as if he were blind toward what can not be seen but only heard and toward the objects (the Palace, the Church, and the tear) of his play with words.
A switch from the verb style to the noun style (stasis) exposes his objective word play. A monotonous rhythm (sounding) almost like a funeral march (figure 5)) builds up within the first stanza and leads into the second. Here, the noun strategy, a string of prepositional phrases (isocolons), suggests non-responsibility and works against its subject, creating a syntactic democracy, while at the same time, exposing an unusual pattern that creates ambiguity but yet, elicits understanding:
In every face P + Adj + N
of weakness P + N
of woe P + N
In every cry P + Adj + N (N with action verb implications)
of every man P + Adj + N
In every Infants cry P + Adj + Adj + N (Adj and N with subject
and action Verb implications)
of fear P + N
In every voice P + Adj + N
In every ban P + Adj + N (N with action verb implications)
In blood P + N
The pattern’s effect highlights the P + Adj + Adj + N scheme as the central concern. The break in design manufactures the necessity to question: What is “In every Infants cry” doing in the structured society of man? Both the design and the words inspire confusion. For example, Infants is presented as a plural proper noun, symbolized by capitalization and the absence of an apostrophe. As a result, the effect disorientates the reader’s thought process and formulates a desire to add an apostrophe.
Is the reader given a license to play with the standard punctuation: period, comma, colon, and semi-colon? Was the person copying the manuscript to the plates given the freedom to choose or determine which punctuation was used? The rules of English grammar were not as clear then as they are today; this is evidenced by the various plates (see figure 1, 5, and 6). Although the plates may appear the same, with close observation, the differences become apparent. For instance in figure 1, the old man and the boy are in the path of a narrow stream of light directed downward upon them; whereas in figure 5 and 6, the lighting deviates. The charactery of the child sitting by a fire highlights the dissimilarity of figure 5 and 6. The contrast of punctuation is the least obvious variation between all the plates. Still, the fluctuating punctuation does exist and hints of a desire to give the reader some freedom in their quest for understanding. However, adding an apostrophe deletes the narrator’s voice and therefore, is not a plausible option.
Nevertheless, the desire to change the part of speech to an adjective by adding an apostrophe so that Infants will appear to fit in and coincide with what is heard remains. But this is against the rule; the rules of English accentuate the message. So if we can not change the usage of the word, we must question to gain understanding. If Infants is a noun out of context, it rightfully follows cry is a verb. However, “Infants cry” is housed in a jailed structure (preposition phrase: P + Adj + Adj + N) that doesn’t measure up to its need. Hence, “every Infants cry, ” an adjective describing a sin of society, is demanding release through the printed word yet, inhibited liberation by the jailed structure (the preparation phrase). An auditory quality, the pronounced possessive (what is heard), lacks the power to emancipate.
Nonetheless, the stifling effect of imprisonment creates a plea that screams for proper placement (noun and verb position) within the structure of the sentence just as “Infants [would] cry” for reconcilement to their proper place within the structure of society. The prepositional phrase immediately preceding and following lack restriction and are properly sequenced: P + Adj +N. However, the next two phrases (P + Adj + N (with action verb implications)) that proceed upward and downward from the center of the column, even though they are in proper sequence and correct, have words occupying the object position that advocate versatility through the possibility of action in the content of a sentence. But the string of phrases works against their subject, therefore opposing actual movement by their structure. Consequently, they are shown in opposition to each other on the chart (figure 3). Consonance, alliterations, and inner rhymes bring the attention back to the narrator.
With the third stanza, there is an abrupt change back to the verb style where an asyndetic pattern slows down the narrative and splashes color upon the scene, turning parallelism into a mirror that connects the phonological quality the reader hears and the graphological quality the narrator hears to what is seen through the addition of colors, suggesting and bringing about a consequential pattern of balance and a feeling that this happens because of this or because of this this happens.
However, the sense of balance and connections is quickly lost when the fourth stanza takes an abrupt turn with “But most” to the parataxis verb style, relinquishing the ranking of “what derives what from what” to the reader. The unbalanced nature creates a pathetic plea (the pathos). Consequently, a play on words: a duel between the phonological and the graphological, a duel between the rhetoric and the linguistic, and a duel between meanings creates a need to question Blake’s word choice and creates a desire to resolve and stabilize the uncertainty.
According to Chapman, the desire to resolve prompts the reader to respond to the “paradigmatic deviance” in a way established by his reactions “to the defeat of regular linguistic expectations” (69-70). He goes on to add
“It is necessary to consider the force of the chosen word in relation to other possibilities . . . which might be considered more likely; also whether meaning is heightened or blurred by the deviation:
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 (Chapman 69-70).
But is the meaning as derived above really the most likely possibility? What meaning is heightened? What meaning is blurred? Blake emphasizes what he hears holds the greatest significance through the repetitive “I hear:” this emphasis reminds the reader what Blake hears (the plural) and what the reader hears (the possessive) are not the same. The graphological (the written word) represents what Blake hears (the plural), whereas, the phonological (the spoken word) represents what the reader hears (the possessive). By using a graphological deviant (see examples in figure 4), Blake creates a transparent chiasmas (not immediately apparent) that takes on dual meaning and dual significance. True, Blake leaves the reader discerning for himself whether to hear or see or to hear and see while perceiving the reasons for the harsh tones created by the alliterations, consonance, assonance.
But he maintains hope that the reader will resolve any misgivings and link what he hears to the “Infants cry” in the second stanza.
The rejected “Infants cry” is the key that unlocks and releases the parallel action of the society described through the written word with the structure built from the placement of the words. Blake hears the (plural) Harlots curse (swear) as evidenced by his earlier version of the last stanza:
But most the midnight harlots curse
From every dismal street I hear.
Weaves around the marriage hearse
And blasts the new-born infants tear.
However, in the most current version (figure 2), we hear the (possessive) Harlot’s curse. Consequently, we are left deprived of complete understanding.
But with the knowledge of the dual forces at work here both heightening and blurring meaning and contributing to the deprived state, the veil is lifted. Blake lets the reader know what must be known. The reader has to wrestle with his conscious and mentally force himself to seek and find the resolution. To gain comprehension, the reader has to turn the key on the parataxis verb style, unlock the jailed structures, and rid them of fear, so that the tear (separation) can mend and the rejected cry heard (by the fathers in the working class) and the tear (shed by the infant in the lower class) may unite (and be given rightful placement within the society, thus mending the tear). Consequently, the poem’s effect on the whole calls up the Holy scripture: Matthew 13:13-17 (figure 8) as if to bless the reader for correcting the inadequacy in the society by joining the end and inner rhymes in the last stanza to the second stanza.