England in 1819 by P. B. Shelly

About the Poem: The Poem is about the state of England in 1819. The king is “old, mad, blind, despised, and dying.” The princes are “the dregs of their dull race,” and flow through public scorn like mud, unable to see, feel for, or know their people, clinging like leeches to their country until they “drop, blind in blood, without a blow.” The English populace are “starved and stabbed” in untilled fields; the army is corrupted by “liberticide and prey”; the laws “tempt and slay”; religion is Christless and Godless, “a book sealed”; and the English Senate is like “Time’s worst statute unrepealed.” Each of these things, the speaker says, is like a grave from which “a glorious Phantom” may burst to illuminate “our tempestuous day.” For all his commitment to romantic ideals of love and beauty, Shelley was also concerned with the real world: he was a fierce denouncer of political power and a passionate advocate for liberty. The result of his political commitment was a series of angry political poems condemning the arrogance of power, including “Ozymandias” and “England in 1819.” Like Wordsworth’s “London, 1802,” “England in 1819” bitterly lists the flaws in England’s social fabric: in order, King George is “old, mad, blind, despised, and dying”; the nobility (“princes”) are insensible leeches draining their country dry; the people are oppressed, hungry, and hopeless, their fields untilled; the army is corrupt and dangerous to its own people; the laws are useless, religion has become morally degenerate, and Parliament (“A Senate”) is “Time’s worst statute unrepealed.”

“England in 1819” is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem metered in iambic pentameter. Like many of Shelley’s sonnets, it does not fit the rhyming patterns one might expect from a nineteenth-century sonnet; instead, the traditional Petrarchan division between the first eight lines and the final six lines is disregarded, so that certain rhymes appear in both sections: ABABABCDCDCCDD. In fact, the rhyme scheme of this sonnet turns an accepted Petrarchan form upside-down, as does the thematic structure, at least to a certain extent: the first six lines deal with England’s rulers, the king and the princes, and the final eight deal with everyone else. The sonnet’s structure is out of joint, just as the sonnet proclaims England to be.

Summary of the Poem

‘England in 1819’ is a remarkable sonnet written by a great romantic poet P.B. Shelly. It gives us a true picture of political and economic conditions of England in 1819. Shelly was revolutionary. He wanted to reform the world based on love and justice. This poem expresses his deep feeling of disgust over the wretched condition of England of his time. King George had grown old. He was on the verge of death. He is not concerned about the miserable condition of people. People despised him and his sons. Shelly calls the king’s sons the dregs of their dull race. They were clinging to their country and sucking its vitality. They had fattened themselves on the blood of common people. They did not care about common people. Common people were starving. Shelley refers to Peterloo massacre. The army attacked a meeting of poor workers. There were about 60,000 persons. 11 people were killed and hundreds were injured. This incident field a feeling of disgust in the hearts of common people for Government. Government used the army to crush the liberties of people. Shelley calls army a killer of liberty. The laws of country were also not favour of common people. They appeared to be golden but in fact, they were oppressive. As a result, people suffered. The condition of religion is also not very good. The religious masters did not follow the teachings of Christ. They did not care about the welfare of common people but their attention is focused on the rich people who were in power. Parliament did not take any step to reform law despite the bad condition of political and social system of England. There is a ray of hope in the heart of Shelly. He believes that a revolution will take place. He says that out of the old order emerges a new order. A new era of equality, liberty and justice will come in existence. The poem shows a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness of reality.

Explain with reference to the Context:

Stanza – 1

“An old, mad, blind, despised and dying king

Princes, the dregs of their full race, who flow

Through public scorn-mud from, a muddy bring

Rulers who neither see nor feel, nor know

But leech-like to their fainting country cling

Till they drop, blind in blood, with a blow”

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from P.B. Shelley’s sonnet ‘England in 1819’.

This sonnet presents a true picture of political and economic conditions of England in 1819. It expresses Shelley’s deep feeling of disgust over the wretched condition of England of his time. He hopes that a revolution will take place and it will bring about a change in present situation. These are the opening lines of the poem.

Explanation:-

In these lines, Shelley addresses King George III. He was an old, crazy man. He was on the verge of death. He was blind to the present wretched condition of England. People despised him and his sons. Shelley calls his sons the dregs of their dull race. They were like mud from a muddy spring. Shelley says that rulers of the country were not very good. He compares them to leeches who cling to body and suck blood. They were clinging to their country and sucking its vitality. They have fattened themselves on the blood of common people.

Stanza – 2

“A people stared and stabbed in the untilled field An army, which liberticide and prey

Makes as a two-eyed sword to all who wield

Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay “

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from P.B. Shelley’s sonnet ‘England in 1819’.

This sonnet presents a true picture of political and economic conditions of England in 1819. It expresses Shelley’s deep feeling of disgust over the wretched condition of England of his time. He hopes that a revolution will take place and it will bring about a change in the present situation.

Explanation:-

In these lines, the poet describes the miserable condition of people of England in 1819. They were starving. He also refers to Peterloo massacre. The army attacked a meeting of poor workers. Many people were killed. Poet says that army was a killer of liberty. The laws of the country appeared to be golden but in fact, they were oppressive. They just add to the suffering of people. The condition of people is good in no manner.

Stanza – 3

Religion Christless, Godless – a book sealed;

A sensate – time’s worst stature unrepeated

Are graves, form which a glorious Phantom may

Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from P.B. Shelley’s sonnet ‘England in 1819’.

This sonnet presents a true picture of political and economic conditions of England in 1819. It expresses Shelley’s deep feeling of disgust over the wretched condition of England of his time. He hopes that a revolution will take place and it will bring about a change in the present situation.

Explanation:-

In these lines, Shelley condemns religious masters and legislative assembly. He says that religion has become Christless and Godless. In other words, the religious masters did not follow the teachings of Christ. For them, Bible was sealed book. They did not care about common people but their attention is focused on the rich people who were in power to reform laws. Even then there is a ray of hope in the eyes of Shelley for the future. He says that out of the old order will emerge a new order. It will be an era of equality liberty and justice for everyone.

Question-Answer (Short Type)

Q.1. Why is the King George III despised?

Ans.: King George III had grown old, weak and crazy. He has no quality of a King. He has despised by everyone because he was blind to reality of wretched political and economic condition of England. The conditions of common people were very miserable but he did not care about the welfare of people.

Q.2. The princes are ‘dregs of their dull race.’

Ans.: King George III was not a good king. He was despised by everyone. His successors were also like him. People despised them also. The Poet compares them to leeches. Just as leech cling to body and suck human blood they sucked the blood of common men. The Poet is right when he calls them ‘dregs of their dull race’. He says that they were like mud from muddy spring.

Q.3. What makes England ‘fainting country’ for Shelley?

Ans.: Poet says that the rulers of country were not good. They did not care about the welfare of common people. They were making the country weaker day by day. People compared the ruler of country to leeches. A leech clings to human body and sucks blood. In the same way, rulers sucked the vitality of their country. They have fattened themselves on the blood of common man. That is the way England appears ‘fainting country’ to Shelley.

Q.4. Explain the following: (i) untilled field (ii) Golden and sanguine law’.

Ans.: The phrases untilled field was used to refer to the place where Peterloo massacre took place. Many people gathered in the field for meeting. Government ordered the army to attack on them. Eleven people were killed and hundreds injured.

(ii) The phrase ‘Golden and sanguine law’ refers to the law. On the surface, law appeared golden and reformative. But the fact is that it was oppressive.

Question-Answer (Essay Type)

Q.1. What occasioned Shelly’s vitriolic attack on the rules of England?

Ans.: ‘England in 1819’ is Shelley’s attack on the rulers of England who had become insensitive and incompetent. England at that time was ruled by King George III. He was not a just king. He had become very old. Shelly calls him an old, mad, blind and despised king. He was on the verge of death. People despised hi. They also despised his sons. Shelley calls them ‘the drags of their dull race. They were like ‘mud from a muddy spring’. They were indifferent to the suffering of common people. The poet compares the rulers to leeches. They had fattened themselves on the blood of common people. They had sucked all the vitality of the country. Shelley recalls the incident of Peterloo Massacre. 60,000 people gathered there in St Peters Fields for a meeting. The government ordered the army to arrest the main speaker. A stampede occurred. Eleven people died and hundreds were injured. This incident filled the heart of the poet with disgust towards the government. The government was in favour of only rich. It followed the policy of ‘tempt and slay’. The laws were such that on the surface they looked golden but in fact, they were oppressive. Common people were starving to death. The senate was dominated by rich people. These people did nothing to reform the old rotten laws. Shelley was a poet of revolutionary zeal. He wanted to reform the world based on love, justice and freedom. This poem is a result of Shelly’s revolutionary zeal.

Q.2. The sonnet is a political satire. comment.

Ans.: ‘England in 1819’ is written by Shelley is a great political satire. The satire is directed mainly against the ruler of England in 1819 that had become indifferent to the sufferings of common people. The government favoured only those who were rich. The poet directs his attack on King George III. He was not a just king. He was blind to the miserable condition of poor public. The poet calls him mad, blind, despised and dying King. His sons were as unpopular as king. The Poet calls them ‘the drugs of their dull race’. They were like mud from a muddy spring. Shelley compares the rulers of his country to leeches- Just as leech sucks the blood of human body in the same way they were sucking the country. They had fattened themselves on the blood of common people. They could ‘neither see, nor feel, nor know’.Common people were starving to death but they did not care about them. The government used the army to crush the liberties of common people. The Peterloo massacre was a blot on the liberty of common people. Many people gathered in St. Peter’s Field for meeting. But the army attacked on them. Many were killed and hundreds injured. This incident filled the poet’s heart with a feeling of disgust towards the government. The Poet calls government the follower of the policy of ‘temp and slay’. Shelley also satirizes laws that looked golden but in fact, they were oppressive. The poet also satirizes religious masters. He says that the religious master did not follow the teaching of Christ. The religious masters were indifferent to the sufferings of common people. In spite of all this Shelley had a hope for a better future. He hoped that out of this rotten order would emerge a new order. It would lead the people in a new era of equality, liberty and justice for all.

England in 1819 by P. B. Shelly Summary and Questions and Answers

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