Incidents upon Salisbury Plain Poem

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The poem Incidents upon Salisbury Plain (otherwise known as Guilt and Sorrow) is a prime example of Wordsworth’s political visions of revolution for social equality, being weaved into his poetry. In the poem, Wordsworth writes of a society wrought with war and the misery experienced by a vagrant woman and wandering soldier. The poem captures a sense of despair, loneliness and disillusionment - no doubt a poetic representation of how it felt to live in a time of civil unrest. It could be said that the wanderer is comparable to the lower class, displaced without care, constantly searching for a sense of belonging. Wordsworth effectively exposes the isolation and despondency of the working class in the sense of dejection portrayed by the protagonists. The narrative structure is such that it forces the reader to view England through the eyes of someone who lived a poverty stricken existence. In the first few lines, Wordsworth details the differences between social castes and the segregation of one from another. This introduction can be seen as an insight into the poem’s pursuit of a means to transgress social limitations and thus demonise a social hierarchy which promoted inequality. The female vagrant acts as a device to solicit sympathy for families broken by war:

“Husband and children one by one, by sword

And scourge of fiery fever: every tear

Dried up, despairing, desolate, on board

A British ship I waked as from a trance restored”7 (lines 321-324)

The woman is detached from reality, having lost everything she once knew and is left wandering Salisbury Plain, finding solace in a decaying spital. As within many of his poems, Wordsworth reverts back to nature as a symbol of purity and hope, presenting the morning sunlight as...

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...land”, which adds a further layer of anonymity and obscurity from the reader, rendering the “king” as no more significant than a traveller’s myth. This distancing of the narrator dilutes Ozymandias’ power and authority even further. The stark contrast between the inscription on the statue “…king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”, and the ruins in which the “colossal wreck” sit, highlight the impermanence of power. Once again the notion nature appears, on this occasion in a temporal sense, as Shelley’s moral message is clear: dictators are finite and will perish with time, but the notion of repression is something that remains and needs to be fought against. The belittlement of the great Ozymandias perhaps acts as motivation for those who see their social superiors as too powerful to overcome, encouraging them to revolt against any form of tyranny.

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