Discussion Topic

Figures of speech and their significance in "London, 1802" by William Wordsworth

Summary:

In "London, 1802," William Wordsworth uses figures of speech like apostrophe, simile, and metaphor to emphasize his plea for John Milton’s return. The apostrophe directly addresses Milton, while similes and metaphors compare England’s moral decay to stagnant water, highlighting the dire need for Milton’s virtuous influence to rejuvenate the nation’s ethical and cultural values.

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In "London 1802" by William Wordsworth, what figures of speech are used and what does the poem refer to?

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.

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What are the figures of speech in the poem "London, 1802" and their significance?

The poem is addressed to John Milton, who is dead, the figure of speech known as apostrophe is used.  

"Apostrophe, figure of speech in which an absent person, a personified inanimate being, or an abstraction is addressed as though present." 

There are similies and metaphors in this poem.  A similie is when you compare two unlike objects using the words like or as, a metaphor is when you compare two unlike objects and you say that the object is, for example, in line two, England is compared to a fen "she is a fen".

An example of a similie is in the line, "thy soul was like a star." 

Milton is compared to be "as pure as the naked heavens." This is a similie because of the use of the word as. His voice was like the sea, similie.

"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." (Wordsworth)

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What are the figures of speech in the poem "London, 1802" and their significance?

One figure of speech in the poem is personfication, where inanimate objects are given human-like traits.  Wordsworth, right from the beginning, calls England "she," which makes her seem like a person, not a country.  Then, he personifies the "altar, sword, and pen," by saying that all three of these have "forfeited" their capability for bringing internal happiness to people.  Only people can forfeit things; it implies intent, forethought, and an element of surrendering your will.  So, to have a pen, altar and sword forfeiting something is using personification.  The last example of personfication is when Wordsworth calls Milton's heart a her, and says that "thy heart the lowliest duties on herself did lay," personifying the heart, saying it laid duties upon itself.

Another figure of speech is a simile, where you compare two things using "like" or "as".  Wordsworth says Milton's "soul was like a Star" and had a "voice whose sound was like the sea".  He uses these similes to more profoundly describe how he longs for Milton's beautiful poetry and stories to come back.  Wordsworth mourns the loss of romance and beauty in England, and implores Milton to return and infuse those glittering qualities back into society.

Those are just a couple figures of speech; I hope that they help to get you started.  Good luck!

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