Summary & Analysis of England in 1819 by P. B. Shelley

Overview of the Poem

As the title suggests, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “England in 1819” is a lament for the situation of England in that year, which was marked by significant political and social unrest. The poet presents a picture of a country in crisis, complete with a corrupt leadership, tyrannical institutions, and a suffering populace, via the use of vivid imagery and potent metaphors. The poem is an impassioned plea for reform and a scathing indictment of the current political and social milieu. A classic of Romantic literature, “England in 1819” captures the spirit of revolution and resistance with its melancholy tone, tragic undertones, and breathtaking imagery.

Background of the poem

The political and social climate in England at the time “England in 1819” was written was volatile. The country’s economic and social landscapes were shifting as a result of the industrial revolution, but the country’s working class was struggling with poverty and hunger while the country’s ruling elite and wealthy got richer. It was widely held that King George III and his sons exemplified the weak and ineffectual monarchy that they represented. The king himself was blind, insane, and in a state of decrepitude.

Both the legislative system and the government came under fire for being corrupt and only looking out for the elite. The public’s discontent grew as the army was used not to protect them but to quell rebellions and keep the peace. There was widespread rage and resentment because the law was manipulated to protect the rights of the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

The Church of England—representing religion—was also under fire for what many saw as a lack of moral leadership and indifference. Religious discrimination and the denial of civil rights for Roman Catholics merely added to the overall feeling of unfairness and inequality.

Shelley wrote “England in 1819,” which was inspired by the tragic Peterloo Massacre that took place in Manchester, England that year. The government’s forces brutally attacked peaceful protestors who were calling for political change and greater participation in government. The killing brought home how unjust and oppressive the political climate in England at the moment was, and it fueled Shelley’s burning desire to write a poem that would condemn the government’s acts and cry out for a change. This poem is a powerful and moving declaration against the injustices of oppression and tyranny, and it perfectly captures the fire and emotion that Shelley felt in the wake of the slaughter.

Summary of the England in 1819

“England in 1819” is a powerful poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poem reflects on the state of England during a time of political unrest, oppression, and injustice. Shelley laments the poverty and sorrow that pervades the nation, decries the corruption and greed of those in power, and maintains a spirit of hope and optimism. He calls for a revival of the revolutionary spirit that once brought progress to the land.

In the kingdom of England, the reigning monarch is loathed by the people and the princely heirs are a source of embarrassment. The ministers of the crown use their positions for personal gain, neglecting the needs of the people. The army has become a tool of oppression, the law a means of oppressing the poor, and the church indifferent to the suffering of the people. The Parliament denies basic rights and freedoms to the Roman Catholics.

Despite all this sorrow and despair, a spark of revolution may ignite, bringing about a change that rights all the wrongs and ushers in a new era of prosperity and equality for all. The poem speaks to the human experience in all its complexity and serves as a testament to the enduring power of art to inspire change and awaken the conscience of society.

Critical Analysis of The England in 1819

“England in 1819” is a masterful sonnet, exemplifying the grand tradition of classical verse, with its impeccable fourteen lines rendered in the most elegant of iambic pentameter. Its rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG imbues the piece with a striking formalism, evoking a sense of timelessness and reverence.

The tone of the poem is one of searing anger, overwhelming despair, and burning urgency, as Shelley endeavors to capture the tumultuous political and social climate of the era. He employs lush, vivid, and incandescent language, bringing to life the oppressive state of England and shining a spotlight on the many injustices and inequalities that pervaded the country. The poem’s tone may be described as prophetic, as Shelley calls forth the winds of change, demanding reform and revolution to end the suffering of the masses.

The poem is carefully structured, divided into two distinct parts. The first eight lines paint a picture of England in vivid hues of darkness, illuminating the political and social landscape with a bleak and hopeless brush. The final six lines, however, offer a glimmer of hope, a vision of a future revolution that will sweep away the old order and replace it with a better one. This masterful structure creates a sense of tension and urgency, instilling within the reader the belief that change is necessary, and that a brighter future awaits us all.

In terms of meter, “England in 1819” is a triumph of form and function, as Shelley masterfully weaves together the rhythmic and musical elements of iambic pentameter. The poem’s ten syllables per line, with their pattern of unstressed followed by stressed syllables, creates a cadence that is at once powerful and harmonious, enhancing the impact of Shelley’s fervent and impassioned language.

This poem, full of unrestrained rage, was a devastating criticism of the political climate of its time. It’s full of rage against the current monarchy and the unjust way the government treated protesters in Manchester.

The poem begins with a vicious assault on King George III and his Princes, calling him a “senescent, insane, visually impaired, despicable, and death-stricken king” in the first few words. The elderly monarch, who had ruled for nearly six decades, was well-known for his insanity, and this trait provided Shelley with a plenty of material for his poetry. The poet also expresses regret about the upcoming accession of King George’s son, whom he views as an unfit successor because of his focus on personal enjoyment rather than national leadership.

Shelley’s pen also delved into the upheaval of the moment, specifically touching on the Peterloo massacre, in which the troops forcibly suppressed a peaceful assembly of civilians, resulting in deaths and injuries. The poet went on to rip into the Church’s corruption and the harmful laws that favoured the wealthy.

The poem concludes on an optimistic tone, however, indicating that the corrupted institutions and the monarchy will eventually disintegrate under the weight of its own flaws. This notion is reminiscent of the Communist Manifesto, authored by Marx and Engels in 1848, which predicted the spectre of communism would sweep across Europe.

Shelley was a poet whose unwavering focus was on the world as it really was, while being surrounded by the sweet scent of idealism. He became an outspoken advocate for individual freedom, railing against the unfairness of oppression and the abuse of political power. Such political fervour gave rise to a canon of groundbreaking critical political poetry that criticised the arrogance of authority and included such classics as “Ozymandias” and the stirring sonnet “England in 1819.”

Like William Wordsworth’s “London, 1802,” “England in 1819” is a criticism of England’s social evils. Shelley paints the nobles as leeches in murky waters, the army as a double-edged sword, religion as a closed tome, and Parliament as unjust laws, unleashing a veritable inferno of vivid and violent metaphors throughout the piece, leaving no room for interpretation of his convictions concerning the state of his nation.

Still, the final couplet ends on an unexpectedly optimistic tone, with the poet speculating that a “beautiful Phantom” may “burst forth from these graves” and “illuminate our tumultuous day.” Though the Phantom’s identity is never revealed, the poem makes references to the spiritual core of the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and the hope that freedom can be won via revolution, much like the story of France.

Literary Devices Used in the England in 1819

The poem employs several literary devices, including:

1) Personification

Shelley personifies England as a “young and proud” but “unhappy” nation. This personification adds depth and meaning to the poem and underscores the idea that England is a living entity with its own emotions and experiences.

2) Hyperbole

Shelley uses exaggerated language to convey the severity of England’s problems in 1819. For example, when he says “The youthful harlot, bold and debonair,” he is using hyperbole to describe the state of England as being both youthful and sexually promiscuous.

3) Alliteration

Shelley uses repeated sounds, such as “young and proud” and “Unhappier they,” to create a rhythmic and musical quality to the poem.

4) Metaphor

Shelley uses metaphors to compare England to other things and to express his ideas more poetically. For example, when he says “A dull and vicious monarch rules the land,” he is using a metaphor to describe the king as a tyrant.

5) Irony

Shelley employs irony in the poem to contrast his expectations of England with the reality of the country’s situation. For example, when he says “We are called a nation of shopkeepers,” he is using irony to criticize England’s focus on commerce and material wealth at the expense of morality and justice.

Themes in the Poem England in 1819

“England in 1819” addresses a plethora of poignant themes that continue to resonate with readers even in contemporary times. Through his fervent critique of the political and social conditions of England during the year 1819, Shelley sheds light on the manifold forms of oppression and injustice that beset society then and highlights their ramifications.

1) The tyranny of the powerful

One of the central themes that Shelley explores in the poem is the tyranny of the powerful, who he depicts as “the tyrants.” Through his exceptional use of language, Shelley masterfully portrays their role in perpetuating injustice and oppression, painting a vivid picture of the devastating effects that their actions have on individuals and communities. The poem serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power and a warning about the importance of resistance and change.

2) Power of the people

Shelley also underscores the vast potential for change that lies within the people and their ability to effect change through their collective efforts. He emphasizes the significance of freedom and liberty, underlining the need for individuals to stand up and fight for these ideals, even in the face of opposition. The theme serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of speaking truth to power and the need to fight for justice, even when it seems daunting.

3) The futility of war

In addition to the themes of oppression and justice, the poem also delves into the futility of war and its devastating impact on individuals and communities. Through his vivid descriptions and use of metaphor, Shelley portrays the horrors of war and the senseless loss of life that results from it, reminding readers of the devastating effects of conflict and the importance of seeking peace.

4) Religious corruption

The poem also addresses the corruption of religion, which was often utilized as a tool by the powerful to perpetuate oppression and injustice. Shelley’s searing critique of religion serves as a warning about the importance of keeping faith free from political and commercial interests, and highlights the need for a spiritual approach that values compassion and justice.