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According to the poem, Wordsworth seems dismayed by the degeneration of the people of London in 1802. He specifically states that all aspects of the spirit of the people are in a troubled state. He opens the poem by using an apostrophe to Milton, referring to John Milton who wrote nearly 200 years before Wordsworth, in a time that Wordsworth more admired. Now he thinks that England "is a fen / of stagnant waters: alter, sword, and pen." He is specifically referring to the people of England and their failing in their religious or moral lives (alter); their disinterest or inability to fight for the right things (sword) (remember that the American and French Revolutions have just occurred), and the writers and thinkers are not inspired or doing anything important (pen). He says that the traditional or historic wealth of England in these areas has been "forfeited" and that the English have given away their inward happiness for selfish concerns. He wishes there was a Milton to re-inspire the English people to rise up and take back their "manners, virtue, freedom, and power." He remembers writers like Milton had the power to inspire and hopes to return to a time when the people of England can be inspired to live better in all the realms of their lives.
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