The Wordsworth sonnet “Milton, Thou Shouldst Be Living at this Hour” stood out to me in the readings this week. Wordsworth starts the poem with the first word being “Milton.” Starting the poem with his name and having the first full sentence be ended with an exclamation point shows the urgency in which Milton is needed. Wordsworth continues the poem and personifies England as he addresses England as “she.” “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” (2-6). In these lines, Wordsworth presents Milton with the idea of what England currently is and of what she lacks, the inward happiness that people once had. Wordsworth talks about how England is a fen, somewhere that needs groundwater to survive, however, the waters are stagnant so that means England is not changing or growing. Instead, if it continues this path, it will die out. Not only this, in these lines Wordsworth groups things in threes, the later, sword, and pen as well as the fireside, heroic wealth and bower. In my opinion, the altar, sword, and pen are all means in which to convince people of certain things. People use an altar to get married or to preach whereas a sword is used to take lives or defend others. A pen is used to write and writing usually leads to art that convinces people of certain things or expresses emotions. All three of these objects can be used to cause/express one’s pain or to defend/make something beautiful happen. In this group, it seems as though Wordsworth includes these to show how there is no more “inward happiness” in these three objects, instead, their use and art is stagnant. Not only this, the second group of three is about home, they are all locations like buildings or near a fire. The wealth of a hall is something that can cause greed and I believe Wordsworth includes this in the group of three to show that England’s homes and places they are near too are being consumed by greed. These few lines show what England had lost, homes where greed does not exist and the proper use of weapons (the altar, sword, and pen).
As the poem continues, Wordsworth continues to “speak” to Milton. The poem seems to follow a Petrarchan form in which the rhyme scheme is abba abba cddece. The last six lines are vastly different from the first eight, they seem to talk more about Milton, it is praising him and his soul. Wordsworth uses this Petrarchan form to pose a question, asking Milton to help England, and then releasing the tension by creating a turn in the poem that leads to a peaceful description of Milton. Overall, this poem is a cry for help followed by a praise. Wordsworth does not think he can fix England on his own, he needs the help of the poets that have passed. In a world without Milton, selfishness grows, and virtue and manners are lost.
2 thoughts on “To: Milton From: Wordsworth”
I think your close reading rightly highlights the idea of homage that is tied to Romanticism. I think what could strengthen your argument is wondering about why Wordsworth has chosen a sonnet to cry for help? Is it because sonnets are contained? Is it because the sonnet contains a volta and thus, can talk about multiple things to make a full point? I think you are totally right about the alter, sword, and pen all being used to persuade or convince people. It might be worth analyzing the order in which these objects are listed. What does it mean to have the pen last and because of this, what is Wordsworth saying about the sonnet or poetry? Is he trying to convince in this poem at all?
It’s interesting that Wordsworth compares England to the “stagnant waters” of a fen. While lamenting the past is a common theme in Romantic literature, it often goes hand in hand with complaints about how far mankind has strayed from nature. Since this separation from nature is often used to exemplify the flaws of humanity, it’s interesting that Wordsworth instead chose to draw upon natural imagery to make the same point.