England in 1819 Poem Analysis: AQA Worlds and Lives

England in 1819 Poem Analysis

leechlike to their fainting country cling

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Join us as we deconstruct the poetry of AQA World and Lives at GCSE level. This England in 1819 poem analysis takes the spotlight today, with the following explorations:

England in 1819 Poetry Analysis – Background

England in 1819 takes many forms: a letter, a sonnet, a list, a polemic. Overall,
it is a furious indictment of a country that’s corrupt, with ‘an old, mad, blind, despised and dying King’ oblivious to the suffering of his people.

Princes are mediocre and are all born from the same corrupt pool (‘mud from muddy springs’).

Ordinary folk suffer, ‘starved and stabbed’ in untended fields, while ‘leechlike’ leaders drain the country of its resources.

The people are violently oppressed by its army, and religion, like a ‘book sealed’, brings little comfort. Yet the speaker insists that from this decay and corruption, hope can still spring like a ‘glorious Phantom… to illumine our tempestuous day’.

England in 1819 Context

Percy Bysshe Shelley (born 8 August 1792, died 8 July 1822) is considered one of the most influential Romantic poets, yet spent much of his short life in relative anonymity. His poetry was as radical as his political and social views, espousing atheism and socialist idealism. He was a vocal critic of the monarchy and hereditary riches, though heir to an established fortune himself.

Much of his work was not published in his own lifetime for fear of persecution but it attracted contemporary admirers such as Lord Byron and John Keats. Shelley wrote extensively over his lifetime, including his famous sonnet Ozymandias (1818), as well as prose and political essays.

England in 1819 is written in sonnet form, breathlessly listing social and political crises plaguing the country, oppressing the people and destroying the land, all compounded by the reign of a ‘despised and dying’ king. Publishers dared not touch the poem in fear of libel prosecution. It was eventually published posthumously, as were many of Shelley’s works.

Shelley died at the age of 29 in a boating accident. American critic Harold Bloom called him ‘one of the most advanced sceptical intellects ever to write a poem’.

Form and Structure

England in 1819 follows the standard 14-line structure of a sonnet. It does not follow a traditional Petrarchan rhyme scheme but Shelley’s use of iambic pentameter and other markers makes it feel very close to one. The use of the sonnet form is terribly ironic; considered a courtly poem, Shelley subverts the form by turning it against the establishment.

Lines 1-4 are a breathless vent against corruption. Shelley’s use of caesura has the reader spitting out the lines, sharing his outrage. The volta or ‘turn’ of the sonnet is contained in the final couplet, where the speaker (ostensibly Shelley himself) expresses hope for the future, despite the grievous state of the nation.


Authority and power: The speaker is openly critical of the king and his kin, in an era where treason was still punishable by death. Those who are in power
abuse both their privilege and the ordinary people.

Violence and oppression: Those who should protect the people (the army) are used instead to suppress and control, resulting in violence and suffering.

Rebirth and reformation: Shelley was a known socialist. Here, the speaker hopes that the country can be reborn from the malignant chaos, that something new will come from the devastation.

Linking to other Poems

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