Blake’s best known poem, ‘Jerusalem’, set to music by Sir Hubert Parry (a favourite
composer of the king) has been sung at many services over the coronation weekend. But
while that poem imagines the Kingdom of Heaven as an ideal for our nation, ‘London’
describes a place where God seems all too absent.
The wretched inhabitants of Blake’s London are slaves to gruelling work, to misery and to
fear. Today, we may no longer send children up chimneys, but poverty, social deprivation,
ill health and homelessness are real and growing evils. While some of us enjoy a relatively
luxurious life, others have to choose between keeping warm and going hungry despite
working long, joyless hours. While Blake’s poem tells us that social inequalities are nothing
new, it also reminds us that these are wrongs that need to be tackled. As people of faith,
who pray every day for the coming of the Kingdom, we cannot ignore them.
I wander through each chartered street,
wwNear where the chartered Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
wwMarks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
wwIn every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
wwThe mind-forged manacles I hear;
How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
wwEvery blackening Church appals,
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
wwRuns in blood down Palace walls.
But most through midnight streets I hear
wwHow the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born Infant’s tear,
wwAnd blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.