London: A Social History "England Hath Need Of Thee"

Roy Porter

"England Hath Need Of Thee"

Context: As in several sonnets written early in the nineteenth century, Wordsworth is expressing his disgust for the mania of materialism which he feels has swept across England. The poem is addressed to Milton, to whom Wordsworth is bound by a common love of liberty and by addiction to the simple and studious life. Milton's soul was "like a star," his voice "pure" and "majestic," his heart dedicated to the "lowliest duties" as exemplified by the political and literary services he rendered to the cause of the Puritan Commonwealth. Conversely, Englishmen, having "forfeited their ancient English dower/ Of inward happiness," are now "selfish," without "manners, virtue, freedom, power." In brief, the French Revolution had created a social and political agitation which was forcing all Englishmen to re-evaluate their moral and ethical codes. Wordsworth uses Milton as a symbol of patriotism to country and dedication to the highest ideals of spiritual life. He writes:

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.