let’s just call a spade a spade, William Blake (1757-1827) was friggin crazy. I mean, we all knew he was crazy the first time we saw one of his woodcuts or paintings. Deep in our hearts we knew. But did you know he literally heard voices in his head? Starting from the age of 5 he had bizarre visions of godheads, prophets, and angels, who would argue with, and within, him about Renaissance art and his own conceptions of this world and the next. This must account in part for the manichean nature of so much of his writing, which was not published (aside from self-publishing) or taken seriously during his lifetime. Now he’s known chiefly for the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience (notice the strict dichotomy). One place to start with this piece might be for someone to explain the arcane vocabulary to me. Charter’d? Bans? Help. -ed.
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 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 blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.
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.