French Revolution: Poem - Summary & Analysis

Also Read

As it appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement.

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven;—Oh! times
In which the meagre, stale forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a Country in Romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent of making of herself
A prime Enchantress—to assist the work,
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth,
The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
(As at some moment might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of paradise itself)
The budding rose above the rose full blown.
What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!
They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,
The Play-fellows of fancy, who had made
All powers of swiftness, subtlety, and strength
Their ministers,—who in lordly wise had stirred
Among the grandest objects of the sense,
And dealt with whatsoever they found there
As if they within some lurking right
To wield it;—they, too, who, of gentle mood,
Had watched all gentle motions, and to these
He fitted their own thoughts, schemers more mild,
And in the region of their peaceful selves;—
Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty
Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire,
And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish;
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia, subterranean fields,
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us,—the place where in the end
We find our happiness, or not at all!


      This passage is an extract from The Prelude (Book. XI, Line. 105-144). It was separately reprinted in the Poems, of 1815. Wordsworth was one of those poets who greeted the French Revolution with enthusiasm, but in the end, turned away from it in horror at its excesses. But in this passage, he celebrates the Revolution and describes the rapture with which it was greeted. It seemed as if the dreams of Utopia of the great thinkers were about to be realized in the actual world.


      The forty lines on French Revolution fall into two equal divisions. In the first twenty line, we get a picture of the Revolution as the breaking forth of a new life or the rising of a new spirit that was to change the whole world. The enthusiasts had hope for the future and joy that the time they desired had arrived. The Revolutionaries whose strength consisted in their love of humanity had mighty helpers. It was a blessed, state for those who could respond, to what was happening around them. The days had come when all that was small, uninteresting and tyrannical changed, into something new and wonderful. Reason herself was an enchantress who was creating a new world. Not only some places like France but the whole world seemed to change. Since everyone enjoys the promise more than the fulfillment, it was a time of great delight. Those who lived a life which had no meaning woke to a life of some significance. Those who were alive experienced rapture itself.

      In the twenty lines that follow, the poet describes men with vision who could now mold the world as they liked. Such men were of two types: the lofty and the mild. The time had come for both to use their skill to make this world an abode of happiness. They had both the stuff ready to shape and helpers to aid them. For one can have happiness, if at all, only here, not in some unknown region of nowhere.

      The French Revolution, therefore, appeared to the enthusiasts as an embryo of a new world to raise on this an opportunity for men with vision to mold it to their hearts desire.


      Wordsworth classifies the people of the time into two kinds: those who were inert or lifeless and those who were alive. The latter were the enthusiasts. But even those who were inert were roused to a state which made them face the world in which they lived.

      But the enthusiasts themselves were of two types, the young and those who were not young. The enthusiasts in general were blessed with rapture. But to the young it was heaven itself. It was they who had a visionary experience of the birth of a new spirit of Liberty, that was to reign not only over one or two favored spots like France, but the whole world. Their experience was the breaking forth of a new life. The images used by the poet are of dawn, promise and the bud of a rose.

      The French Revolution was also an opportunity for another class of people, the dreamers, the active ones who had used their forces to create a new world and those others who were milder, to shape the world according to their dreams. They could use all their skill and bring happiness to this world itself. When one comes to think of it, we must find our happiness here itself in this world and cannot think it to be in some land of nowhere, some world below the earth like Hades or some secret Atlantis.

      The passage, in keeping with the rest of The Prelude, is reminiscent. It describes the earliest phase of the French Revolution’s effect on the minds of the intellectuals. Wordsworth began with an enthusiastic and sympathetic attitude.

Previous Post Next Post