Discuss the similarities and differences between Blake's “London,” Wordsworth's “London, 1802,” and Shelley's “England in 1819.”  

In the poems “London,” “London, 1802,” and “England in 1819,” Blake, Wordsworth, and Shelley paint grim portraits of England. While all three poems present the darkness and misery of their age, Blake does so in a personal way with first person account. Wordsworth offers hope by addressing and remembering Milton. Shelley's depiction is broad and dark.

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All three of these poems—“London” by William Blake, “London, 1802” by William Wordsworth, and “England in 1819” by Percy Bysshe Shelley—lament the corruption, squalor, and misery of their country and/or city. All three poems focus on the negative aspects of their times, but they each do so in different ways. Let's take a closer look at these poems.

In Blake's “London,” the speaker walks through the city, and every face he sees bears “marks of weakness, marks of woe.” Children and adults both cry out in misery. Soldiers sigh at their duties, which run “in blood down palace walls.” Young women driven into prostitution curse in the streets, and infants shriek. The portrait is grim, bleak, and filled with pain. There is nothing positive here at all, no redeeming qualities.

In contrast, Wordsworth addresses the poet Milton in his poem “London, 1802.” He tells Milton that England needs him now, that he should be living to inspire his country. England has become “a fen / Of stagnant waters.” It has forfeited its traditions, its heroism, and its happiness and has become selfish. Wordsworth does not go into details, other than to say that “altar, sword, and pen” have all become corrupt. Rather, he reminds readers of the “manners, virtue, freedom, and power” of Milton as well as the poet's starlike purity and freedom in the midst of “life's common way” and his “cheerful godliness” in the midst of the “lowliest duties” in life. In so doing, he suggests the characteristics England must embrace again to recover from its fall.

Shelley takes a much darker stance in “England in 1819.” The king and princes are the “dregs of their dull race,” he asserts, scorned by the people as “mud from a muddy spring.” The people are hungry and fainting. The army is killing liberty, and the law actually tempts and slays the people instead of guiding them. Even religion has become “Christless, Godless—a book sealed.” Indeed, Shelley maintains, the day is “tempestuous.” Like Blake and unlike Wordsworth, he offers no solution to the problem and no light in the darkness.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 23, 2021
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