“London, 1802” by William Wordsworth

Imani Manley
English 2003-1248
Essay 2

London, 1802
By Williams Wordsworth


• Bower – a shady leafy shelter or recess, as in a wood or garden; arbor; an attractive dwelling or retreat.
• Dower- natural gift or talent.
• Fen – low land covered, wholly or partially with water, boggy land, a low and marshy lad or frequently flooded area of land.

• “London, 1802” – This title refers to the time that Wordsworth lived in England. Although he did not live in London, he traveled past it frequently. There were accounts of him traveling to and from France (a place where he had illegitimately conceived his first child), which at the time was amidst revolutionary wars. As a result William Wordsworth became a supporter of revolutions; “Wordsworth, still full of passion for liberty, equality, and fraternity, boldly penned a defense of the revolutionaries” (Klavan.) The conditions of France had him reflect on England’s turmoil. Wordsworth and another Romantic poet, William Blake very displeased with England, expressed themselves in writing. As William Blake communicate his distaste for the condition of London in his poem “London” (1794), “London, 1802” serves the same purpose.
• “Milton!” – William Wordsworth pays homage to former English poet John Milton. Milton (1608-1674), known especially for his religious epic “Paradise Lost” (Meyers 149), was one of the scholars that influenced Wordsworth while growing up. Similar to Wordsworth, “Milton’s poetry and prose reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and self – determination, and the urgent issues and political turbulence of his day” (“Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”.) In writing, London, 1802 Wordsworth not only expresses his admiration for Milton but also demonstrates how troubled England can benefit from his ideals.
“London, 1802”
Beginning with the desperate outcry “Milton!” emotion is immediately revealed in William Wordsworth’s sonnet, “London, 1802”. In his apostrophe, Wordsworth speaks to the soul of John Milton, summoning his return because the condition of present-day England is horrible. He states that England is “of stagnant waters” (3), or stuck as stagnant implies; a stillness that symbolizes death. The sonnet is centered on Wordsworth’s use of poetic devices that conveys how Milton’s death is a metaphorical representation of England, which too is dead and requires Milton’s return to be revived.
The poem is a traditional Italian sonnet of fourteen lines. The octave presents Wordsworth concern for England. There is a dreary, unsettling tone as the poet expresses his despair. The sestet however, resolves that despair, offering hope to the idea of Milton’s return. The tone then becomes pleasant with the aid of words like virtue, star, majestic, cheerful, and of course heaven. Wordsworth uses the word “thou” to address Milton in the first line. He says “Milton! Thou should’st be living at this hour: /England hath need of thee.” In other words, where are you Milton when England needs you? Wordsworth word choice of the historical pronouns, as suggested by author Cameron “thou, thee, and thy”, (which for the most part repeats throughout the poem) places emphasizes on his belief that England not only needs the guidance of Milton, but needs to revert back to the attitudes of that time in order for it to be recovered.
After calling out to Milton, Wordsworth uses imagery to paint a not so specific picture of England’s current vices. In the next four lines he states,
” Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;”
This describes a nation in demise; a nation that cannot even be restored by its major institutions. Using images of the altar pen and sword, he is able to convey that idea, as these metonymies symbolize the church, literary scholars, military, respectively (“Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”.) Wordsworth continues on to say that corruption lies within the home (fireside) and the heroic wealth of hall and bower (ruling party). Wordsworth proclaims England is no longer the place it used to be. The “ancient English dower “that has been forfeited is the natural gift of historical greatness that England is otherwise known for. It consists of selfish people whose primary concerns are themselves and material entities. Wordsworth is so bothered by the situation that emotion is transmitted in the line “Oh! raise us up, return to us again;” (7). Here he calls Milton into existence as he conditions that, such a resurrection will bring England back returning virtue, freedom and power.
The sestet works in the poem as a resolution to the troubles presented in the octave. In these last six lines Wordsworth gives insight on who Milton’s was and why he was admirable. He compares his soul to a star, and the sound of his voice to the sea (8,9). With similes and metaphors Wordsworth is able to illuminate Milton’s character. He even states “Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free” where Milton is given the compliment of being divine. All of these comparisons are to nature (sun, sea, heaven), which Wordsworth viewed as one of the upmost entities in life (Woof.) By likening Milton to these Godlike features, Wordsworth provides hope. Why? Because if Milton’s virtues were to revisit England, England will then be saved.
London, 1802 is full of emotion! Although Wordsworth has never met or personally knew Milton, he is certain that the solution to England’s darkness is Milton. In the last lines of the poem he writes “So didst thou travel on life’s common way, /In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart//The lowliest duties on herself did lay.” In other words Milton lived an ordinary life possessing godliness (righteousness) while still adhering to his duties here on earth or in the world. This was something that Wordsworth thought went wrong in England. The nation has become full of “selfish men” whose main concerns are material things, thereby losing sight of all morals. If only Milton was here to inspire England, the way he inspired Wordsworth England will come alive. The countless use of poetic devices helps Wordsworth convey how Milton’s death is analogous to the “death” of England, in which the only hope for England’s recovery is the adoption of Milton’s ideals. After all Milton cannot return himself!


Behrendt, Stephen C. “Placing the Places in Wordsworth’s 1802 Sonnets.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 35, No. 4, Nineteenth Century (Autumn, 1995), pp. 641-667: Rice University. .

Cameron, Janet. “William Wordsworth London 1802.” Poetry Suite 101. N.p., Dec. Web. 11 May 2012. .

Cantor, Rebecca. Berkow, Jordan ed. *Wordsworth’s Poetical Works Study Guide: Summary and Analysis of “London, 1802″*. GradeSaver, 17 November 2007 Web. 23 May 2012.

Klavan, Andrew. “Romanticon: Wordsworth’s corpus reflects the growth of a conservative’s mind.” City Journal. The Manhattan Institute, 2009. Web. 10 May 2012. .

Meyer, M. Poetry an introduction. Questions from Micheal Meyers Considerations For Critical Thinking And Writing. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 149, 119.

McNulty, John B. “Milton’s Influence on Wordsworth’s Early Sonnets.” Modern Language Association. Vol. 62, No. 3 (Sep., 1947), pp. 745-751.


Shmoop Editorial Team. “London, 1802” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 23 May 2012. .

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Wordsworth’s Poetry.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 24 May 2012

Wikipedia contributors. “John Milton.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 May 2012. Web. 23 May 2012. >.

Wikipedia contributors. “London, 1802.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Web. 11 May 2012. .

Wikipedia contributors. “Thou.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Web. 11 May 2012. .

Wikipedia contributors. “William Wordsworth.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Web. 23 May 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org “William Wordsworth.” New World Encyclopedia. 0.

Woof, Pamela "Romanticism." Dove Cottage, The Wordsworth Museum & Art Gallery. The Wordsworth Trust, 2007. Web. 23 May 2012. ;.

Woof, Pamela. “Wordsworth’s Themes.” Dove Cottage, The Wordsworth Museum & Art Gallery. Wordsworth Trust. 2007. Web 23 May 2012. .

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1 Response to “London, 1802” by William Wordsworth

  1. imanley, I pasted the updated version in your post instead of the draft. Can I delete your comment now? Also, if it doesn’t look exactly how you want it to, you can edit the post yourself by clicking Edit.

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