Blake pictures London as an old man being led by a child. This intimates that London incorporates contradictions. The aged man represents the pain and sorrow of the city, its failures and poverty, its violence and cruelty, its blindness and decay. Leading the elder is a child: the hope and promise of the future tied to the past as a voluntary guide and assistant. Blake experienced his city, London, as incorporating the range of human experience from exploitation to community. The Innocent and the Experienced as well as the 'travellers from Eternity' were at home in Blake's London.
London, the place in England where he lived and worked, where he grew up and grew old, became to Blake an image of all other possibilities for cities. His visions of Babylon, Golgonooza and Jerusalem grew out of his experience of London.
In speaking of London in Golgoonoza: City of Imagination, Kathleen Raine says: "For Blake a city is a living organism, 'a Human awful wonder of God', as he wrote; it is the inner lives of the inhabitants as they act and interact upon one another. Of this invisible city, composed of a multitude of lives; the city of stone and bricks, of streets and buildings, of palaces and churches, is only the image and expression. For Blake, a Londoner born, his city is above all human:
I behold London; a Human awful wonder of God!
He says: Return, Albion, return! I give myself for thee:
My Streets are my, Ideas of Imagination.
Awake Albion, awake! and let us awake up together.
My Houses are Thoughts: my Inhabitants; Affections,
The children of my thoughts, walking within my blood-vessels,"
Jerusalem, PLATE 34 , (E 180)
The sorrow Blake felt for the pain experienced within his city is expressed in Songs of Experience in his poem London:
SONGS 46 (E 26)
"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 Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear
How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse"
London spoke to Blake - he listened, he heard, he saw, he felt, he wrote.
Jerusalem, PLATE 34 ,(E 180)
"So spoke London, immortal Guardian! I heard in Lambeths shades:
In Felpham I heard and saw the Visions of Albion
I write in South Molton Street, what I both see and hear
In regions of Humanity, in Londons opening streets."