Wordsworth's poem is an apostrophe to the great English poet, John Milton. It is written as a sonnet:
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;
Oh! 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.
Figurative language in the poem includes simile, metaphor, and metonymy. Wordsworth describes England through direct metaphor, writing "She [England] is a fen of stagnant waters." Through implied metaphor, he describes the "inward happiness" of the English people as their "ancient English dower [valuagle possession]." Similes are found in the poet's descriptions of Milton. Milton's soul "was like a star," and the sound of his voice "was like the sea." Milton himself was "pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free." The words "altar," "sword," and "pen" demonstrate metonymy, refering to the church, the military, and the literary arts, respectively.
In Wordsworth's sonnet, he accomplishes two purposes and develops two themes. He pays personal tribute to John Milton, and he offers strong social criticism of conditions in England in 1802. Milton is presented as a man of excellence in character, one who possessed those qualities sorely needed in Wordsworth's own modern time: "manners, virtue, freedom, power." London in 1802, however, is not a place of excellence, according to the poet. It is roundly criticized as a swamp of "stagnant waters," where selfishness has replaced the kind of "godliness" exemplified by Milton's life. Written by one of the great English Romantic poets, "London 1802" expresses a romantic view of England's past.