Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected) | Study Guide

William Wordsworth

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London, 1802

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of William Wordsworth's poem London, 1802.

Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected) | "London, 1802" | Summary



This sonnet from Poems, in Two Volumes follows the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDD ECE, with an initial octet and a following sestet. The poem clearly expresses great dissatisfaction with English life. The two parts of the sonnet begin by denouncing English vices in the management of religion, political power, and culture ("altar, sword, and pen"), claiming that all aspects of contemporary life are no better than a bog or swamp of decay. The speaker addresses the great poet John Milton, author of Paradise Lost (1667), so that his memory can reinvigorate England with proper "manners, virtue, freedom, power." Speaking in the second person, the speaker describes Milton as having had a pure soul and poetic voice "like a Star." Yet he lived a common, even ordinary life, full of good cheer and purpose and achievements. This is what Wordsworth's time needs.


Wordsworth clearly felt free to denounce what he saw as the decay of life in his time. Having been born and raised in moderate conditions, he found the means to travel while young and support himself in order to learn of the world outside his rural native surroundings. His youth under the influence of the French Revolution was exciting and held promise for change and human betterment, but in a relatively short time, he felt disillusioned by politics and human affairs and saw in his own English life and society much to criticize in the hope of improvement.

The poem is unusual in the immediate and passionate invocation to long-gone John Milton, whose poetic and spiritual powers from a century and half before Wordsworth thought were lacking all around him. The poem speaks with remarkable directness and force, calling out in its first words and punctuation with a plea for help from the past. Educating and improving the human condition through the insights of literature were paramount to Wordsworth, who understood that Milton's example was one that his own time could learn from to overcome what he saw as the overriding selfishness and impurity of people's motivations. Milton "dwelt apart" from any vices of his own time. As Wordsworth often acknowledged, he had not similarly been always free from such vices but was always struggling to set himself on the right path to Duty and truth, the example he sees in Milton is especially significant.

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