London 1802 Summary and Analysis by William Wordsworth

About William Wordsworth: William Wordsworth was born in the year 1770 in Cockermouth in England. He experienced tragedy early in his life in the form of death of his mother and this experience shaped his future works. Wordsworth published his first verse in the year 1793. He gained major fame with Lyrical Ballads, published in the year 1798, written together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These two are now known to be the launchers of the Romantic Age. The most notable works of Wordsworth include Lyrical Ballads, The Excursion, and The Prelude. He was Britain’s Poet Laureate, a poet who composes poems for special events and occasions, from the year 1843. He died in the year 1850 due to pleurisy.

About London 1802: Though the title says London 1802, the poem wasn’t published until 1807. There were multiple reasons for this, the main one being Wordsworth, at the time he wrote the poem, wasn’t still recognized enough. And if a poet of a little repute wrote a poem as audacious and daring as this, it would surely not be appreciated. In this poem, Wordsworth tells the lamentable state England has fallen to and at the same time praises John Milton, a poet of the 15th century.

Setting of the Poem: The poem is set in London; at least, the first part of it is. The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, meaning it has 8 lines of verse on one topic and the next lines on another. The London mentioned in the first part, octet, isn’t normal London but a fallen London which the poet compares tostagnant waters.


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Poetic Devices in London 1802

Enjambment: The lines of verse flow from one line into another. For example, the line 2 continues into line 3. There is enjambment seen throughout the poem.

Rhyme: The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet. In the octet, it has a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA and in the sestet part it has a rhyme scheme ABBCAC.

Hyperbole: The speaker of the poem compares Milton to God. In fact he uses the verb ‘godliness’ in relation to Milton. This is clearly an exaggeration and hence, a hyperbole.

Simile: England is said to be like a fen of stagnant water. The soul of Milton is likened to a star. These are similes.

Symbol: Symbol is something visible which represents something invisible. In line 3, the alter, the sword and the pen, all three things visible to the eye, represent the religion, the military might and the literature of England. Symbolism is acute in the octet.

Personification: There is some personification in the last line when the speaker says that the heart of Milton laid on itself some lowly duties.

Summary of the poem London 1802

The speaker of the poem calls out to Milton, a 15th century poet, saying that he should be living in the present. He says England needs him now for it has become a stagnant. England forgot all that is great about her and the men of England have all become selfish. He calls upon the dead poet asking him to raise them back on their feet again.

The speaker then goes on to praise Milton. He compares his soul to a star, he praises his voice and he applauds his simple living though possessing such a great soul.

Analysis of the poem London 1802

The poem is a petrarchan sonnet which means to say that it is comprised of 14 lines, divided into an octet and a sestet, with both of them speaking on topics only little related to each other. The poem speaks of the degenerated state of the then England in the octet and then lauds the poet, John Milton in the sestet.

The speaker of the poem says that England had become a fen of stagnant water. Fen is a low and marshy area frequently flooded with water. The speaker is saying that England has become a stagnant swamp. This is a pretty daring comparison and one that would not have been easily forgiven, had not the poet been a renowned and a much appreciated one. This is one of the reasons Wordsworth published the poem five years after it was written; he waited to gain fame.


The speaker then speaks of all that England has lost. He uses symbolism to do so. Here the alter stands for religion, the sword stands for military and the pen stands for literature. The speaker says that all three have been forfeited by the English. He further says England has lost its ‘fireside’ and ‘heroic wealth’; both of them symbols for her warmth and economy respectively. The symbolism is apt and included beautifully.

The speaker says that the above aspects have now been forfeited. These all aspects of the English life were deeply connected to their inward happiness. They were the ‘dowry’ the English passed from one generation to the next; and now, they have been lost.

The speaker asks Milton to return to them and give them, who have now fallen and become selfish, manners, virtue, freedom and power. John Milton is known for his raising verse. The speaker asks Milton to use this quality of his to raise the English again.

Here the octet ends. The rhyme scheme of this octet is ABBAABBA. From here on, the speaker focuses on the traits of Milton. He starts off with a simile comparing the soul of Milton to that of a star. He means to say that his (Milton’s) soul was far high; that it was superior. He then praises his voice which had a sound like the sea, which was pure, majestic and free. Voice here does not literally mean Milton’s voice. It is the poetry of Milton and his works that are compared. Again there is a simile used here.

The voice is compared to heavens, said to be majestic and free; all traits of a king. In this way, the speaker believes that Milton is capable of rousing people. Yet having all the ‘godly’ characteristics, Milton walked the common way. Milton is here compared to ‘God’ which is clearly an exaggeration on the part of the speaker, making this a hyperbole. The speaker means to say that Milton was humble and capable of daily tasks even though he possessed all the said qualities.

This makes him able to better understand people and makes him more qualified to talk to them, to rouse them and raise them to their former glory. Here ends the sestet and hence, the poem. The rhyme scheme of the sestet is ABBCAC.

As said before, the poem is a petrarchan sonnet which makes it have the iambic pentameter. This means to say that in each line of verse there are ten syllables with alternate syllables having stress upon them. There are some imperfect iambic pentameters like in the case of line 6 which has eleven syllables. But most of the verses are perfect.

An apt example would be line 9, the beginning line of the sestet.

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart.

The italicized parts in the above verse have stressed upon them. And the line is made up of a perfect ten syllables.

Central Idea of the poem: The central idea of the poem is show the deplorable state England has fallen to and the areas in which it fell. Further it is to praise Milton, the poet by calling upon him to raise the fallen people and in the process, telling the reader why exactly he is qualified to do so.

Tone of the poem: The tone in the octet part is full of patriotism. This is shown in the concern the speaker expresses for the direction England is taking. In the sestet, the tone shifts to one of praise and reverence.

Conclusion: William Wordsworth, concerned with the direction England is taking in the year 1802, wrote this poem as a reminder of what she has lost. He also presents the solution to this problem in the form of the poet, John Milton. The poem is a beautiful verse laden with concern and praise.

Abhishek is a marketing research and social media consultant who developed a keen interest in blogging. He can be contacted at dey.abhishek99@gmail.com

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