Friday, October 17, 2008

English Poetry: England, 1802

It's been a while since I featured some poetry on here so, to make amends, here is William Wordsworth's England, 1802 in all it's glory.

It is as pertinent today as it has ever been - it could have been written yesterday it is so apt - and remains, for me, one of the most stirring and inspirational pieces of writing I have ever laid eyes upon. Personally, I think this should be learned off by heart by every pupil in England - not just learned but understood too - particularly verse IV.

Enjoy.

I
O FRIEND! I know not which way I must look
For comfort, being, as I am, opprest,
To think that now our life is only drest
For show; mean handy-work of craftsman, cook,
Or groom!—We must run glittering like a brook
In the open sunshine, or we are unblest:
The wealthiest man among us is the best:
No grandeur now in nature or in book
Delights us. Rapine, avarice, expense,
This is idolatry; and these we adore:
Plain living and high thinking are no more:
The homely beauty of the good old cause
Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,
And pure religion breathing household laws.

II
MILTON! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
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;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

III
GREAT men have been among us; hands that penn'd
And tongues that utter'd wisdom—better none:
The later Sidney, Marvel, Harrington,
Young Vane, and others who call'd Milton friend.
These moralists could act and comprehend:
They knew how genuine glory was put on;
Taught us how rightfully a nation shone
In splendour: what strength was, that would not bend
But in magnanimous meekness. France, 'tis strange,
Hath brought forth no such souls as we had then.
Perpetual emptiness! unceasing change!
No single volume paramount, no code,
No master spirit, no determined road;
But equally a want of books and men!

IV
IT is not to be thought of that the flood
Of British freedom, which, to the open sea
Of the world's praise, from dark antiquity
Hath flow'd, 'with pomp of waters, unwithstood,
'Roused though it be full often to a mood
Which spurns the check of salutary bands,—
That this most famous stream in bogs and sands
Should perish; and to evil and to good
Be lost for ever. In our halls is hung
Armoury of the invincible Knights of old:
We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold
Which Milton held.—In everything we are sprung
Of Earth's first blood, have titles manifold.

V
WHEN I have borne in memory what has tamed
Great Nations, how ennobling thoughts depart
When men change swords for ledgers, and desert
The student's bower for gold, some fears unnamed
I had, my Country!—am I to be blamed?
Now, when I think of thee, and what thou art,
Verily, in the bottom of my heart,
Of those unfilial fears I am ashamed.
For dearly must we prize thee; we who find
In thee a bulwark for the cause of men;
And I by my affection was beguiled:
What wonder if a Poet now and then,
Among the many movements of his mind,
Felt for thee as a lover or a child!

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

2 comments:

Zenobia said...

Shakespeare knew all about it too ... very relevant for today's society.

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry –
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,
And purest faith, unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill;
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save, that to die, I leave my love alone.

Thomas D. said...

I know that this post is a little old, but I find particular relevance for this poem in modern America especially given the obsession most Americans have with business and the dream they have of owning their own small business and "making it rich."

Look at my post on this topic:

http://rhaetor.blogspot.com/2011/09/on-capitalist-system-and-small-business.html