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Compare the ways in which Blake and Larkin present the theme of corruption in their poems

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Compare the ways in which Blake and Larkin present the theme of corruption in their poems. William Blake and Phillip Larkin are very different poets; they have different techniques to convey their ideas but both skilfully are able to establish a connection with the audience through these different means. The two poets, despite being separated in time successfully convey even to a modern day reader the theme of corruption in their poems, concentrating on Blake’s “London” and “The Chimney Sweep” and Larkins’ “Sunny Prestatyn” and “Mr.

Bleaney. ” Larkin uses a persona as narrator of the poem “Mr. Bleaney” to introduce the theme of alienation by a corrupt, uncaring society. The narrator becomes the occupant of a room previously rented by Mr. Bleaney and the dramatic monologue highlights the lonely life of the man who never speaks and whom we only see through the medium of his abandoned room. Larkin uses slow, ponderous lines at the start to express a sinister undertone.

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Mr. Bleaney is only ever shown as a metaphor for the past. His life is presented as trivial, worthless and irrelevant as demonstrated in expressions such as “his preference for sauce too gravy.

” The room is unappealing, the curtains “thin and frayed”, the room has “no hook behind the door”, “no room for books. ” This suggests emptiness and is a forceful image for the reader, eliciting sympathy and regret at the perceived suffering of the man whose room appears to have taken on his own characteristics. There is a further sinister, corrupt element introduced in the words, “they moved him” coupled with a reference to “bodies” which could be taken as the innocent colloquial term in the 1950s for car manufacture, but also suggests death. “They” represents society as a whole and Bleaney is presented as a victim.

The room’s cold dinginess is summed up by the image of the “fusty bed” and the reader is left with the impression of detachment, isolation and lack of control as the poet uses language to create a miserable impression of his life. Even the man’s name is carefully selected to add to the bleakness and the lack of strong syllables suggests monotony and boredom. Almost every word chosen by Larkin sets a chilling, pessimistic tone and challenges us to consider the worth of our own lives. The lexical choice of “rented box” suggests both the room he had and the coffin which ends the life of everyone corrupted by an uncaring society.

The message that society will continue to corrupt is made clear in the narrator’s terse “I’ll take it” when accepting the room. Furthermore, there is the idea that the persona is merely joining the cycle of corruption in the words, “stub my fags on the same saucer” and “I lay where Mr. Bleaney lay. ” Larkin uses rhyme to suggest the mood of the poem too. The ABAB scheme with iambic pentameter makes the reader feel claustrophobic as the rigid pattern suggests the rigidity of Mr. Bleaney’s life. In addition, the constant uses of enjambement is used to show how life flows past us, as in, “So it happens that I lie

Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags On the same saucer-souvenir, and try. ” Larkin’s use of colloquial language such as “egged” and “jabbering” makes the poem informal and conversational, reflecting the bigger picture of the whole mundane everyday life and adds such lexical choice adds to the fluidity of the poem. Blake also uses a persona to introduce and develop the theme of corruption in his poem, “The Chimney Sweeper” where the corruption caused by the exploitation of chimney sweeps is presented through the eyes of a young, naive sweep.

The reader is immediately made to feel sympathy for the boy at the start of the poem as his mother is dead and his father sold him. “When my mother died I was very young, And my father sold me while yet my tongue, Could scarcely cry weep weep weep. So your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep. ” Blake uses the metonymy of a tongue crying so that the reader thinks of words as well as tears and the sibilant alliteration in sweep, soot and sleep makes the reader imagine a brush repetitiously scraping a chimney wall. Furthermore, the sweep cannot avoid the suffering which corruption brings, even when asleep.

The poet also manages to portray the widespread nature of the corruption by introducing a fellow sweep, little Tom Dacre. He continues the theme of melancholy and exploitation as he “cried when his head that curl’d like a lamb’s back, was shaved,” introducing the biblical image of the innocent lamb spoiled by the symbolic shaving of the hair as the sweep loses his innocence with the loss of his hair. The use of the passive, “was shaved” encourages the reader to seek someone to blame, increasing the moral guilt of all society just as Larkin used “they moved him” in “Mr.

Bleaney” to achieve the same effect. Blake seeks to highlight the use of an illusory promised future happiness as a method of subduing the oppressed and suggests that the chimney sweep’s escape to a better life can only happen in a dream. Thus an angel telling Tom that if he is good, God will replace his absent, uncaring father and give him joy is just an illusion and the poet stresses the point by the fact that on waking in the dark “the morning was cold”, contrasting sharply with his being “happy and warm” in the dream.

Larkin too explores the theme of a society’s corruption of its members in the poem, “Sunny Prestatyn. ” However, in this poem the exploitation is not that of child labour as social changes had made such an issue redundant in the civilised world, but that of women by means of their sexual objectification. Larkin uses language to express mood and tone with juxtaposition as the poem shifts alarmingly from the pleasant exhortation to the public to visit the Welsh coastal resort of Prestatyn, yet the title itself is ironic, given the resort’s location and the prevailing weather.

Nevertheless, the first stanza is broadly agreeable with the image of a girl laughing, “kneeling on the sand… behind her, a hunk of coast, a hotel with palms” with a perfect backdrop. The reader is lulled into thinking not of suffering, but of fun. The second stanza brings suffering into focus as Larkin uses the girl to symbolise society being a metaphor for sexual exploitation with the female form being used for commercial success. The language becomes coarse as the poster is seen weeks later after having been defaced, echoing the suffering of all women in society.

The perfect face has gone, “her face was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed; huge tits and a fissured crotch. ” Sex sells but the foul language makes the reader think of suffering as there is a hint of sexual abuse as the woman is set “astride a tuberous cock and balls. ” The colloquial language is intended to shock and demean and we are further introduced to the idea of violence where “someone had used a knife” and the girl’s face had been stabbed right through.

The poet’s intention is perhaps to suggest that some men have a desire to conquer, destroy and sexually defile women and there is an interesting comparison between the two poets’ use of the diminutive. The “little” of “little Tom Dacre” in The chimney Sweeper provides the reader with the image of someone tiny, naive and underdeveloped, a victim of society’s corrupt exploitation of the young, whilst the graffiti on the poster is scrawled by “Titch Thomas”, a nickname

which might make the reader think of somebody of very little intelligence but also evokes the idea of “John Thomas”, the slang word for a penis, suggesting that the vandal is not well endowed physically as well as mentally. The woman in the poster represents all women and their exploitation by a corrupt society yet the atmosphere is light with a backdrop of sand and the girl is in “tautened white satin” and there is an informal, holiday mood with “laughed” and a “hunk of coast” suggesting handsome males in a seaside environment.

However, the mood goes from being friendly and comical to casual but with a hint of sinister when Larkin chooses “slapped up” with the pun of a slapper and the poster being put up. This is another passive, suggesting no responsibility being taken for the corruption of young women in society and it is telling that there is a sense of vagueness in the use of “one day in March”, “a couple of weeks”, “someone” and “something” throughout the poem.

By suggesting that nobody is willing to accept responsibility, Larkin is endeavouring to focus on the idea that the whole of society is to blame for the corruption and exploitation of women. Indeed the speaker is a reporter rather than an actor and the reader is unsure as to the perpetrator of the second act of vandalism, “the great transverse tear” which suddenly appeared. There can be no doubt as to the severity of the problem as “fight cancer” replaces this poster, suggesting that the corruption mentioned throughout is a disease which must be fought but like cancer, it is a disease which will not easily be overcome.

The juxtaposition of illusory beauty and stark reality thus comes to a head at the end of the poem and Larkin uses rhyme to achieve the contrast as at the start of the poem he has light, amusing rhymes such as “Prestatyn” and “white satin”, whereas there is something far darker and more menacing in the rhyming of “life” and “knife” later in the poem. Blake’s poem “London” presents a damning vision of the capital’s population corrupted and manipulated by society at every turn. The universality and commonality of the suffering is evident immediately with the repetition of “every” and “marks” in the first two stanzas.

“And marks 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 for’g manacles I hear. ” The people are portrayed as showing the marks of this corrupt society and the lack of freedom is emphasised by the lexical choice of “ban”, “fear”, “cry” and the mention of “mind-forg’d manacles” which suggests that the inhabitants’ feelings are imprisoned in their own minds and that everyone is trapped.

The formality of the second verse suggests a rigid structure intended to mirror the sense of being trapped which the entire population of London felt and the move from visual to aural is a clever means of emphasising that escape is impossible and that one cannot shut ones ears to the problems. The ruling classes were responsible for the corruption and oppression and Blake seeks to make this clear by further repetition of the word “charter’d”, even to the extent that the Thames could somehow be similarly possessed and corrupted.

He goes on to site a number of accusatory examples referring to soldiers and chimney sweeps before mentioning the exploitation of young girls, forced into prostitution by poverty. The dark side is stressed by the use of “midnight streets” and the cyclical nature of the corruption is made clear as “the youthful harlot’s curse” is perpetuated by her new born child as the misery is passed from one generation to the next.

The final symbol of “the Marriage hearse” is potent as the oxymoron links the joyful idea of marriage to its opposite, death, perhaps from sexually transmitted disease. The phrase is also a jibe at rich married men who used prostitutes routinely so that marriage became the death of love and freedom. In dealing with the sexual exploitation of women, Blake and Larkin shared a common aspect of corruption but this is not the only similarity. Just as Larkin used light and dark in “Sunny Prestatyn”, so did Blake in the imagery of “The Chimney Sweeper”.

In this poem white is the symbol of innocence and childhood which contrasts vividly with the blackness of soot, chimneys and coffins which symbolise loss of innocence, corruption, adulthood and ultimately death. So Tom Dacre’s loss of his white hair shows the corruptive power of a society which is reflected in the uniform blackness and bleakness of his working conditions. The sweeps even rise in the dark and Blake uses slant rhymes to reinforce the point, where “dark is used to rhyme with “work”, a clear indication that for the sweeps, the two are inexorably linked.

Whilst Larkin’s use of colloquial language fits its purpose and adds to the mood he wishes to evoke, this contrasts with Blake who uses more complex, to the modern day reader, rather archaic words, which puts him outside of the poem as an onlooker to the devastation and corruption that is being conveyed by the syntax in “London”. However Blake does attempts to break into conversational mode at times, stating, ‘hush, hush’ which almost seems childlike as the lexis is very simple and monosyllabic. The poets both seek to challenge the readers to think for themselves, by adding a hint of uncertainty to the poems.

For example, in “Sunny Prestatyn” the jocular, casual style of the poem might suggest to some that the narrator is to some extent enjoying the attack on femininity. He reports that the “huge tits” were “scored well in” and that she was set “fairly astride a tuberous cock and balls”, suggesting a smirk. This may imply that the narrator is part of the problem in the sexual exploitation of women as he too is part of the society which allows such objectification and it is even possible that he was the person who tore the poster, following the initial vandalism, though even this would lead the reader to have to decide the motive for the action.

Similarly in “Mr Bleaney” the ending “I don’t know” challenges the reader to think about not just Mr Bleaney’s plight, nor that of the narrator, but also his or her own situation. Blake too challenges the reader to do something about the plight of the young chimney sweeps and by focusing on the possible happiness of the boy’s dream, he is perhaps exhorting the reader to act, showing the moral strength to help the poor and oppressed and act out of a sense of public spiritedness.

Thus, despite writing about different societies at different times, there are definite similarities in terms of the subject matter written about, even if the language used and imagery conjured up by the two poets are, at time, very different. The universal truth that society can and does corrupt its members is the thread which unites the poets and yet also allows them the chance to display their crafts in a varied and diverse manner. Compare the ways in which Blake and Larkin present the theme of corruption in their poems.

William Blake and Phillip Larkin are very different poets; they have different techniques to convey their ideas but both skilfully are able to establish a connection with the audience through these different means. The two poets, despite being separated in time successfully convey even to a modern day reader the theme of corruption in their poems, concentrating on Blake’s “London” and “The Chimney Sweep” and Larkins’ “Sunny Prestatyn” and “Mr. Bleaney. ” Larkin uses a persona as narrator of the poem “Mr. Bleaney” to introduce the theme of alienation by a corrupt, uncaring society.

The narrator becomes the occupant of a room previously rented by Mr. Bleaney and the dramatic monologue highlights the lonely life of the man who never speaks and whom we only see through the medium of his abandoned room. Larkin uses slow, ponderous lines at the start to express a sinister undertone. Mr. Bleaney is only ever shown as a metaphor for the past. His life is presented as trivial, worthless and irrelevant as demonstrated in expressions such as “his preference for sauce too gravy. ” The room is unappealing, the curtains “thin and frayed”, the room has “no hook behind the door”, “no room for books.

This suggests emptiness and is a forceful image for the reader, eliciting sympathy and regret at the perceived suffering of the man whose room appears to have taken on his own characteristics. There is a further sinister, corrupt element introduced in the words, “they moved him” coupled with a reference to “bodies” which could be taken as the innocent colloquial term in the 1950s for car manufacture, but also suggests death. “They” represents society as a whole and Bleaney is presented as a victim.

The room’s cold dinginess is summed up by the image of the “fusty bed” and the reader is left with the impression of detachment, isolation and lack of control as the poet uses language to create a miserable impression of his life. Even the man’s name is carefully selected to add to the bleakness and the lack of strong syllables suggests monotony and boredom. Almost every word chosen by Larkin sets a chilling, pessimistic tone and challenges us to consider the worth of our own lives. The lexical choice of “rented box” suggests both the room he had and the coffin which ends the life of everyone corrupted by an uncaring society.

The message that society will continue to corrupt is made clear in the narrator’s terse “I’ll take it” when accepting the room. Furthermore, there is the idea that the persona is merely joining the cycle of corruption in the words, “stub my fags on the same saucer” and “I lay where Mr. Bleaney lay. ” Larkin uses rhyme to suggest the mood of the poem too. The ABAB scheme with iambic pentameter makes the reader feel claustrophobic as the rigid pattern suggests the rigidity of Mr. Bleaney’s life. In addition, the constant uses of enjambement is used to show how life flows past us, as in, “So it happens that I lie

Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags On the same saucer-souvenir, and try. ” Larkin’s use of colloquial language such as “egged” and “jabbering” makes the poem informal and conversational, reflecting the bigger picture of the whole mundane everyday life and adds such lexical choice adds to the fluidity of the poem. Blake also uses a persona to introduce and develop the theme of corruption in his poem, “The Chimney Sweeper” where the corruption caused by the exploitation of chimney sweeps is presented through the eyes of a young, naive sweep.

The reader is immediately made to feel sympathy for the boy at the start of the poem as his mother is dead and his father sold him. “When my mother died I was very young, And my father sold me while yet my tongue, Could scarcely cry weep weep weep. So your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep. ” Blake uses the metonymy of a tongue crying so that the reader thinks of words as well as tears and the sibilant alliteration in sweep, soot and sleep makes the reader imagine a brush repetitiously scraping a chimney wall.

Furthermore, the sweep cannot avoid the suffering which corruption brings, even when asleep. The poet also manages to portray the widespread nature of the corruption by introducing a fellow sweep, little Tom Dacre. He continues the theme of melancholy and exploitation as he “cried when his head that curl’d like a lamb’s back, was shaved,” introducing the biblical image of the innocent lamb spoiled by the symbolic shaving of the hair as the sweep loses his innocence with the loss of his hair.

The use of the passive, “was shaved” encourages the reader to seek someone to blame, increasing the moral guilt of all society just as Larkin used “they moved him” in “Mr. Bleaney” to achieve the same effect. Blake seeks to highlight the use of an illusory promised future happiness as a method of subduing the oppressed and suggests that the chimney sweep’s escape to a better life can only happen in a dream. Thus an angel telling Tom that if he is good, God will replace his absent, uncaring father and give him joy is just an illusion and the poet stresses the point by the fact that on waking in the dark “the morning was cold”, contrasting sharply with his being “happy and warm” in the dream. Larkin too explores the theme of a society’s corruption of its members in the poem, “Sunny Prestatyn. ” However, in this poem the exploitation is not that of child labour as social changes had made such an issue redundant in the civilised world, but that of women by means of their sexual objectification.

Larkin uses language to express mood and tone with juxtaposition as the poem shifts alarmingly from the pleasant exhortation to the public to visit the Welsh coastal resort of Prestatyn, yet the title itself is ironic, given the resort’s location and the prevailing weather. Nevertheless, the first stanza is broadly agreeable with the image of a girl laughing, “kneeling on the sand… behind her, a hunk of coast, a hotel with palms” with a perfect backdrop.

The reader is lulled into thinking not of suffering, but of fun. The second stanza brings suffering into focus as Larkin uses the girl to symbolise society being a metaphor for sexual exploitation with the female form being used for commercial success. The language becomes coarse as the poster is seen weeks later after having been defaced, echoing the suffering of all women in society. The perfect face has gone, “her face was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed; huge tits and a fissured crotch.

” Sex sells but the foul language makes the reader think of suffering as there is a hint of sexual abuse as the woman is set “astride a tuberous cock and balls. ” The colloquial language is intended to shock and demean and we are further introduced to the idea of violence where “someone had used a knife” and the girl’s face had been stabbed right through. The poet’s intention is perhaps to suggest that some men have a desire to conquer, destroy and sexually defile women and there is an interesting comparison between the two poets’ use of the diminutive.

The “little” of “little Tom Dacre” in The chimney Sweeper provides the reader with the image of someone tiny, naive and underdeveloped, a victim of society’s corrupt exploitation of the young, whilst the graffiti on the poster is scrawled by “Titch Thomas”, a nickname which might make the reader think of somebody of very little intelligence but also evokes the idea of “John Thomas”, the slang word for a penis, suggesting that the vandal is not well endowed physically as well as mentally.

The woman in the poster represents all women and their exploitation by a corrupt society yet the atmosphere is light with a backdrop of sand and the girl is in “tautened white satin” and there is an informal, holiday mood with “laughed” and a “hunk of coast” suggesting handsome males in a seaside environment. However, the mood goes from being friendly and comical to casual but with a hint of sinister when Larkin chooses “slapped up” with the pun of a slapper and the poster being put up.

This is another passive, suggesting no responsibility being taken for the corruption of young women in society and it is telling that there is a sense of vagueness in the use of “one day in March”, “a couple of weeks”, “someone” and “something” throughout the poem. By suggesting that nobody is willing to accept responsibility, Larkin is endeavouring to focus on the idea that the whole of society is to blame for the corruption and exploitation of women. Indeed the speaker is a reporter rather than an actor and the reader is unsure as to the perpetrator of the second act of vandalism, “the great transverse tear” which suddenly appeared.

There can be no doubt as to the severity of the problem as “fight cancer” replaces this poster, suggesting that the corruption mentioned throughout is a disease which must be fought but like cancer, it is a disease which will not easily be overcome. The juxtaposition of illusory beauty and stark reality thus comes to a head at the end of the poem and Larkin uses rhyme to achieve the contrast as at the start of the poem he has light, amusing rhymes such as “Prestatyn” and “white satin”, whereas there is something far darker and more menacing in the rhyming of “life” and “knife” later in the poem.

Blake’s poem “London” presents a damning vision of the capital’s population corrupted and manipulated by society at every turn. The universality and commonality of the suffering is evident immediately with the repetition of “every” and “marks” in the first two stanzas. “And marks 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 for’g manacles I hear. ”

The people are portrayed as showing the marks of this corrupt society and the lack of freedom is emphasised by the lexical choice of “ban”, “fear”, “cry” and the mention of “mind-forg’d manacles” which suggests that the inhabitants’ feelings are imprisoned in their own minds and that everyone is trapped. The formality of the second verse suggests a rigid structure intended to mirror the sense of being trapped which the entire population of London felt and the move from visual to aural is a clever means of emphasising that escape is impossible and that one cannot shut ones ears to the problems.

The ruling classes were responsible for the corruption and oppression and Blake seeks to make this clear by further repetition of the word “charter’d”, even to the extent that the Thames could somehow be similarly possessed and corrupted. He goes on to site a number of accusatory examples referring to soldiers and chimney sweeps before mentioning the exploitation of young girls, forced into prostitution by poverty.

The dark side is stressed by the use of “midnight streets” and the cyclical nature of the corruption is made clear as “the youthful harlot’s curse” is perpetuated by her new born child as the misery is passed from one generation to the next. The final symbol of “the Marriage hearse” is potent as the oxymoron links the joyful idea of marriage to its opposite, death, perhaps from sexually transmitted disease. The phrase is also a jibe at rich married men who used prostitutes routinely so that marriage became the death of love and freedom.

In dealing with the sexual exploitation of women, Blake and Larkin shared a common aspect of corruption but this is not the only similarity. Just as Larkin used light and dark in “Sunny Prestatyn”, so did Blake in the imagery of “The Chimney Sweeper”. In this poem white is the symbol of innocence and childhood which contrasts vividly with the blackness of soot, chimneys and coffins which symbolise loss of innocence, corruption, adulthood and ultimately death. So Tom Dacre’s loss of his white hair shows the corruptive power of a society which is reflected in the uniform blackness and bleakness of his working conditions.

The sweeps even rise in the dark and Blake uses slant rhymes to reinforce the point, where “dark is used to rhyme with “work”, a clear indication that for the sweeps, the two are inexorably linked. Whilst Larkin’s use of colloquial language fits its purpose and adds to the mood he wishes to evoke, this contrasts with Blake who uses more complex, to the modern day reader, rather archaic words, which puts him outside of the poem as an onlooker to the devastation and corruption that is being conveyed by the syntax in “London”.

However Blake does attempts to break into conversational mode at times, stating, ‘hush, hush’ which almost seems childlike as the lexis is very simple and monosyllabic. The poets both seek to challenge the readers to think for themselves, by adding a hint of uncertainty to the poems. For example, in “Sunny Prestatyn” the jocular, casual style of the poem might suggest to some that the narrator is to some extent enjoying the attack on femininity.

He reports that the “huge tits” were “scored well in” and that she was set “fairly astride a tuberous cock and balls”, suggesting a smirk. This may imply that the narrator is part of the problem in the sexual exploitation of women as he too is part of the society which allows such objectification and it is even possible that he was the person who tore the poster, following the initial vandalism, though even this would lead the reader to have to decide the motive for the action.

Similarly in “Mr Bleaney” the ending “I don’t know” challenges the reader to think about not just Mr Bleaney’s plight, nor that of the narrator, but also his or her own situation. Blake too challenges the reader to do something about the plight of the young chimney sweeps and by focusing on the possible happiness of the boy’s dream, he is perhaps exhorting the reader to act, showing the moral strength to help the poor and oppressed and act out of a sense of public spiritedness.

Thus, despite writing about different societies at different times, there are definite similarities in terms of the subject matter written about, even if the language used and imagery conjured up by the two poets are, at time, very different. The universal truth that society can and does corrupt its members is the thread which unites the poets and yet also allows them the chance to display their crafts in a varied and diverse manner.

Cite this Compare the ways in which Blake and Larkin present the theme of corruption in their poems

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