by William Wordsworth
There are two Wordsworths operating in this poem, and, as a result, it seems as if two speakers surface. The first speaker is stern, somewhat judgmental, and generally disapproving. The second is a speaker head-over-heels in literary love with an older man. Let's take a look at both of them.
Speaker #1, who gets the main stage for the first eight lines of the poem, is a strict moralist unhappy about the character of contemporary England. Maybe he's bit of a curmudgeon. Maybe he got stuck in a carriage-jam in London's busy streets and came home with a little residual road-rage. Maybe his cravat is too tight and it's making him irritable. Whatever it is, this speaker is not a happy dude. He's worried that the country has forgotten its past successes, and lost pride in what used to make it great. He longs for days past, when Englishmen were free, courteous, accomplished, and powerful – however, in his perception, those days are long gone. The people of England need a poetic savior to step up and inspire them to greatness once more…
…And that poetic savior is John Milton. The problem is, he's dead. This is where Speaker #2 makes his entrance and dominates the poem from this point on (lines 9-14). He attributes almost divine greatness to Milton, who, he claims, was both a poetic and moral force. This speaker is totally enraptured by Milton, and he lingers over descriptions of the dead poet's all-around superiority. He abandons his attack on England, and perhaps grows a little giddy in his praise of Milton. He ends the poem with lavish praise of Milton's humbleness, and doesn't overtly return to the initial theme of England's decline. It's up to us to figure out the moral of the poem, which is that we, the readers, should all strive to be more like Milton in our everyday lives.
Altogether, what kind of image do we have of the speaker? Well, he's both tough and a bit of a softie; he's judgmental but lavish with his praise; he's both an optimist and a pessimist. He's a little of this and a little of that. In other words, he's just as human as the rest of us.