A Sample 'A' Paper

from English 337: Fall, 2000

 

Things to note:

1) The paper has a clearly articulated thesis in the introduction, one that is developed in different ways in each of the paragraphs of the paper.

2) Rather than making numerous general points briefly, the student always choses to make specific, complex arguments so that s/he can provide an in-depth and extensive interpretation of the text at hand.

3) The student has used a good deal of textual evidence from the poem to support his/her case.

4) The student never rests at paraprase but always seeks to interpret the descriptions and passages s/he provides.

5) The paper has very few grammatical and stylistic problems.


"Claiming Poetic Genius as Solution to England's Death"

"London, 1802"

Mílton! Thóu should'st be líving át this hóur:
Éngland hath néed of thée: shé is a fén
Of stágnant wáters: álter, swórd, and pén
Fíreside, the héroic wéalth of háll and bówer,
Have fórfeitéd their áncient Énglish dówer
Of ínward háppiness. Wé are sélfish mén;
Óh! ráise us úp, retúrn to ús agáin;
And gíve us mánners, vírtue, fréedom, pówer.
Thy sóul was líke a Stár, and dwélt apárt:
Thóu hadst a vóice whose sóund was líke the séa:
Púre as the náked héavens, majéstic, frée,
So dídst thou trável on lífe's cómmon wáy,
In chéerful gódlinéss; and yét thy héart
The lówliest dúties ón hersélf did láy.

In response to the French revolution, the overthrow of France's absolute monarchy in 1789, the Romantic poets began to form their own radical solutions to the political aristocracy of England. The French overthrow of monarchical rule sparked the Romantic overthrow of England's own festering aristocratic value system, as Shelley would depict in "Sonnet: England in 1819": "Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow / Through public scorn, -mud from a muddy spring,-/ Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know" (lines 2-4). Shelley's depiction of the aristocracy as dull in sense and race is analogous to the ailments of England that Wordsworth depicts in "London 1802." In his sonnet to London, Wordsworth displays what has been lost from the England he once loved. He does this through the form and content of the sonnet. Wordsworth vocalizes the Romantic ideal of poet as genius and godhead, rejoicing in the voice of the poet and the merit which the poet alone retains. The dead Milton is called to claim again what he and England have lost, life. Milton in his majesty is exemplary of what England's symbolic death is, the loss of "ancient English dower/ Of inward happiness" (line5-6) and "manners, virtue, freedom, power" (line 8).

The image of the dead poet Milton in comparison to the death of England's greatness creates the Romantic ideal of true life within sublime existence. Because England has lost its sublimity, it must be revived, and how better than through the invocation of a poet. The exclamatory "Milton!" with its trochaic variation works to call Milton to life. This holds with the Romantic use of trochaic variation to call the Muse for inspiration. Wordsworth's use of a caesura after this invocation stresses the need for life, as he calls Milton to life, "Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour" (line 1). With this line, Wordsworth creates the need for Milton's life in the present hour and the need for his own poetic inspiration. He defines England's state of desecration as a political body needing inspiration and life: "England hath need of thee: she is a fen/ Of stagnant waters: alter, sword, and pen,/ Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower" (lines 2-4). With "she is a fen/ Of stagnant waters" (lines 2-3), Wordsworth spawned an image of England that Percy Bysshe Shelley would mimic in his own description of England's muddied aristocracy in "Sonnet: England in 1819." Wordsworth does not hesitate to mention England's overarching muddied nature. She is a fen in all aspects: in the institution of the church (alter), in the military (sword), in the law-making body (pen) (though this could be a critique of the literary world as well), in the domestic sphere (fireside), and in the aristocracy (the heroic wealth of hall and bower). The extensive "fen of stagnant waters" creates the need for a powerful poet, "Milton!"

The consistent use of caesura in the first quatrain develops the imagery of England's breakdown and death, "Milton! Thou should'st be living at this hour/ England hath need of thee: she is a fen/ Of stagnant waters: alter, sword, and pen." The trochaic variation in "England hath need of thee"(line 2) sets up the comparison between Milton and England. Milton's literal death aligns with England's symbolic death, and both are given life by Wordsworth's use of trochaic variation. Despite the fact that England is "a fen of stagnant waters," she is described in the Romantic ideal of the sublime. Her "alter, sword, and pen/, Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower"(lines 3-4) mirror the Romantic sublime images of Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn" in its depiction of greatness and power. Coleridge's Xanadu is sublime for its "stately pleasure dome" and its "decree" from Kubla Kahn, its creator. What Wordsworth creates is the image of a godhead poet, Milton, who will satisfy the needs of England's stagnancy, returning the "ancient English dower/ Of inward happiness" (lines 5-6). Wordsworth alludes to the "dower" as a natural gift that England possessed in the past, which it must regain. Milton must regain his life (a sublime occurrence) in order to give England sublime inspiration, so that it may return to its more ancient life.

In the second quatrain, Wordsworth admits that England's loss of its ancient life, sublime in its Romantic ideal of a political greatness (pre-"fen of stagnant waters"), the forfeiture of the "ancient English dower/ Of inward happiness" (lines 5-6), is the result of "selfish men" (line 6). The enjambement of "Have forfeited their ancient English dower/ Of inward happiness. We are selfish men" (lines 5-6) exemplifies this forfeiture, as the lost "inward happiness" is forfeited to the next line. That England has in the past been a sublime being of political correctness, an "ancient English dower/ Of inward happiness," is comparable to the live poet as sublime. That England has lost its ancient inheritance is analogous to Milton's lost life. Wordsworth follows this comparison with a spondaic variation, "Oh! raise us up, return to us again" (line 7). The spondaic variation reemphasizes the need for Milton and a manifestation of his poetic Genius. "Oh! raise us up, return to us again" calls the poet as creator into action. Imagery of sublime resurrection is present within this line, creating the poet as godhead. Because this line on either side of the caesura is alike in sound and form, it is as though the poet has done just this action, "Oh! raise us up, return to us again" (line 7). Milton the poet is reanimated through the invocation, and the line itself is reanimated through the symmetry of the line. The "us" of the sonnet is given life. Yet, being "selfish men"(line 6), the "us" asks for more: "And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power" (line 8). Wordsworth here uses the list motif, as he did in the first quatrain with "alter, sword, and pen/ Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower" (lines 3-4). This anaphora in form draws a comparative nature between "selfish men" and England's "fen of stagnant waters."

The form of the sestet carries its content, "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" (lines 9-11). The iambic pentameter of the first line of the sestet is shifted to trochaic pentameter in the second line. This variation follows the content of the line, "Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart." The shift to trochaic variation and the repetition of the rhyme, lines 10 and 11 rhyming d, set the next two lines apart from the rest of the sestet, "Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea/ Pure as the naked heavens, majestic free" (line 10-11). Because the lines describe the poet Milton, he too, is dwelling apart from "life's common way" (line 12).

The variation to the trochee in lines 10 and 11, "Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea,/ Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free," is reminiscent of the initial invocation of "Milton!" in line 1. This works to further develop Milton as poet-Muse for England's needed inspiration. Wordsworth alludes to Romantic pantheism in "Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart/ Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea" (lines 9-10). Here Milton is god of heavens and sea, with his "soul" and "voice" in union with the sublime "Star" and "sea." The caesura in "Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart" (line9) breaks Milton's soul in the heavens from his "voice whose sound was like the sea" (line 10). The caesura moves his soul in heaven to his voice in the sea. The endstopped line "Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:" (line 10) creates a pause for another oncoming transition. Milton then is placed in the heavens once more, "Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free" (line11). This transition from heaven to earth, and back to heaven, is unique in its play with the invocation and the Romantic sublime. Milton is projected as the sublime poet who can inspire the nation of England to right its wrongs. In his sublimity, he is of this world, yet apart from it. Milton has been apart of this world in human form, yet as a man he "dwelt apart" of this world as sublime poet. He has parted from this world in death and is now invoked to return, "return to us again"(line7). The transitory nature of the sublime poet is constructed in the form and content of the poem.

Line 7 demands Milton to "return to us again." He must return to life and "raise us up." With Milton's revival, England can revive and secure the forfeited "ancient English dower/ Of inward happiness" (line 5). Wordsworth concludes his sestet with the solution to England's death: "so didst thou travel on life’s common way,/ In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart/ The lowliest duties on herself did lay" (lines 12-14). The sestet once again visits Milton as living in the "common way" here on earth, yet "in cheerful godliness" which separates him from the common. The transition to "thy heart" of "lowliest duties" brings Milton's sublime godliness back to the common. The caesura of the line "in cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart" (line 13) draws a comparison between the godliness of the poet and his human heart, representing the final assertion of Milton as answer to England's death. England lost its sublime power and its life because of "selfish men." It became too human and lost its sublimity. Milton existed, a sublime poet with "godliness" and "heart," which England must now emulate. It must achieve the same union of godliness and heart, and Milton is the heart.

Milton's poetic genius, his "voice whose sound was like the sea" (line 10), is what England needs to renew life to its "fen of stagnant waters"(line 2-3). The Romantic notion of the poet as Creator and Godhead beautifully cures the ills of England. "Milton!" is called by Wordsworth to create England anew in the image of the poet, "majestic, free" (line 11). It is fitting that "London, 1802" would project the ills of aristocracy over all of England. London, representative of the Romantic revolt against urban and industrial England, represents the pollution within England, the muddied fen of the aristocracy. The Romantic revolt against the aristocracy demands a solution, to which Wordsworth calls "Milton! Thou should'st be living at this hour." Wordsworth himself is familiar with the need for sublime inspiration in the creation of poetry. He, therefore, calls a great poet to inspire the political needs of the nation.

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