The use of the word "Chartered" is ambiguous and goes against control and ownership. It may express the political and economic control that Blake considered London to be enduring at the time of his writing. Blake's friend Thomas Paine had criticised the granting of Royal Charters to control trade as a form of class oppression. However, "chartered" could also mean "freighted" and may refer to the busy or overburdened streets and river or to the licensed trade carried on within them. In the original draft, the word used was simply "dirty" ("I wander through each dirty street / Near where the dirty Thames does flow").
Ralph Vaughan Williams set the poem to music in his 1958 song cycle Ten Blake Songs. The poem was set to music in 1965 by Benjamin Britten as part of his song cycle Songs and Proverbs of William Blake.
The poet William Blake was a poet and artist who specialised in illuminated texts, often of a religious nature. He rejected established religion for various reasons, including the failure of the established Church to help children in London who were forced to work. Blake lived and worked in the capital, so he was arguably well placed to write clearly about the conditions people who lived there faced.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience Published in 1794, this collection of poems, fully illustrated and originally hand-printed by Blake, aimed to show the "Two Contrary States of the Human Soul". The Songs of Innocence section contains poems which are positive in tone and celebrate love, childhood and nature. The Songs of Experience poems are obviously intended to provide a contrast, and illustrate the effects of modern life on people and nature. Dangerous industrial conditions, child labour, prostitution and poverty are just some of the topics Blake explores.
The French Revolution In 1789, the French people revolted against the monarchy and aristocracy, using violence and murder to overthrow those in power. Many saw the French Revolution as inspirational - a model for how ordinary, disadvantaged people could seize power. Blake alludes to the revolution in London, arguably suggesting that the experience of living there could encourage a revolution on the streets of the capital.