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Can you give a critical analysis of poem "Patriotism" by Sir Walter Scott?

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jyoti14 | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:43 PM via web

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Can you give a critical analysis of poem "Patriotism" by Sir Walter Scott?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:14 PM (Answer #1)

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Sir Walter Scott’s “Patriotism” has the feeling of a battle song sung by a leader on a cantering horse. This effect is achieved through meter, rhyme, and especially alliteration. The meter is predominantly iambic tetrameter rather than the more common iambic pentameter. The shorter lines give the poem a feeling of impetuousity and acceleration towards a goal. A few of the lines break from the dominant iambic, such as:

High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;

But these only enhance the feeling of perhaps riding a cantering horse over an uneven landscape.

The poem is made up of rhyming couplets. This “doubling” adds to the jaunty bouncing or cantering feeling. The speaker is not like the man he is describing. The speaker is bold, reckless, impetuous, willing to risk his life for his country--and perhaps leadinig a troop of like-minded followers.

Scott's “Patriotism” uses alliterations in virtually every line, and sometimes there are two different kinds of alliterations in the same line, sometimes three in one line, and sometimes alliterations that begin in one line and flow over into the following line. For example:

Boundless his wealth as wish can claim . . .

This line contains two "w" sounds and two "c" sounds.

BREATHES there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,

The “s” sounds of “soul” and “so” are continued in “him-self” and “said.”

Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd

These two lines contain the “h” sound seven times:

"Whose," “heart,” “hath,” “him,” “home,” "his," and “hath.”

The alliterations add to the music and rhythm of the poem. They also contribute to the feeling of precipitous onward movement as well as the bouncing, jaunty, bold, cantering feeling of the poem, which makes the speaker seem like a courageous free spirit in contrast to the “man with soul so dead” whom he despises and condemns.

The condemnation occurs in the fourteenth and fifteenth lines of this sixteen-line poem.

And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,

Here there are four “d” sounds, with the fourth carried over from the fourteenth to the next. The words are “doubly,” “dying,” “down,” and “dust.”  The “d” sounds are appropriate for this dismal denunciation of doom. All other alliteratiions, as well as the rhyming couplets and  foreshortened meter, seem to be preparing for the grim pronouncement that the man without love for his country shall forfeit fair renown (three “f” sounds),

And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,

With a final flourish of “un” sounds in

Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.

In the last line, the poor unpatriotic wretch is dead and buried, and the echoing words “unwept," "unhonoured," and "unsung” are referring to an ignominious man already forgotten.

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