In “London” a poem describing the way in which the human spirit had been shackled in 1794 when the poem had been written, Blake expresses an abiding belief in the unchristian nature of the restrictions on freedoms being experienced by the British people. The French Revolution had just occurred and sentiment in Britain had reached an all-time low as expressed in lines such as “How the chimney-sweepers cry” (9) and “… the hapless Soldiers sigh / Runs in blood down Palace walls” (11-12) in which it can be seen that even time-honored occupations such as chimney sweeps and soldiers had fallen into disrespect and despair. The red walls of the street depicted in the poem’s illustration provide subtle imagery of the British soldiers’ and, by extension, the rest of the British population’s plight.
Although he is describing physical situations, “A mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe” (3-4), he makes it clear that he is also discussing the state of the souls of people he meets, “In every voice. in every ban / The mind-forg’d manacles I hear” (7-8). The idea that even thoughts are chained is echoed in the illustrations Blake has selected to accompany the poem. In them, an old man robed in the blue of purity is seen stooped, dejected, defeated and walking only with the aid of a cane. This man has become so entrapped in the rules and regulations not only of his own government but also within the shackles of his own mind, that he is prevented from crying out or perhaps even seeing the effects of what has been created. This is suggested by the idea that although the man’s eyes are open, he is still led by a small child as they move down an empty street. .