The Waste Land is full of different voices—as handsomely established by a long tradition of criticism, latterly crowned by the magnificent edition of Ricks and McCue (on which I draw extensively here). In the poem you can find Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Joyce—and, I am going to say, Blake. He is an incongruous participant in the chorus in various ways, not least in that while Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Baudelaire, and even Joyce continued to sound in Eliot's work, Blake seems to have faded away as Eliot moved on; but for a short time in the early 1920s, I am suggesting, Blake played an important role in the drama of Eliot's imagination and, in particular, helped him toward the distinctive, metropolitan poetry of The Waste Land.
Blake is Eliot's greatest precursor in writing about London as a Spectacle of imprisoning hell, one of the main organizing ideas of the poem.
London, the swarming life you kill and breed,
Huddled between the concrete and the sky,
Responsive to the momentary need,
Vibrates unconscious to its formal destiny,
Knowing neither how to think, nor how to feel,
But lives in the awareness of the observing eye.
Of course, Blake was not the only precursor in thinking about London in an infernal and claustrophobic way. Coleridge in “Frost at Midnight” movingly lamented growing up “pent ‘mid cloisters dim,” when he should have grown up in the countryside;3 but he was only taking up an expressive line of disapproval you find in many later eighteenth-century poets, such as Cowper: is not the country air better than
[…] the eclipse
That Metropolitan volcanos make,
Whose Stygian throats breathe darkness all day long,
And to the stir of commerce, driving slow,
And thund’ring loud, with his ten thousand wheels?
In “Peter Bell the Third,” Shelley characteristically put things the other way round, turning the simile on its head:
Hell is a city much like London—
A populous and a smoky city;
There are all sorts of people undone,
And there is little or no fun done;
Small justice shown, and still less pity.