The poem begins with a plaintive call to John Milton (1608-1674), a much-loved and respected English poet, and one of Wordsworth's great influences. The speaker laments the fact that Milton isn't around anymore, since, as he sees it, England needs a guiding voice. The speaker flat-out condemns the state of the nation, saying that it's a stagnant swamp (gross!), and that the English people have forgotten all the things that used to make them so glorious, including religion, military might, and literature. The speaker worries that the Englishmen of his day are too selfish and debased, and wishes Milton could return and give the nation a good old-fashioned pep talk. The poet is certain that Milton could inspire England to greatness once again, and mold its inhabitants into more noble creatures.
The second half of the poem dwells on Milton's high points; the speaker gets all swoony about Milton's writing, and uses celestial imagery to show us just how divine it is. Not only is Milton's writing admirable, apparently, so was his character. The man could do no wrong. The speaker goes gaga over the all-around loveliness that was Milton, and ends the poem by praising the deceased poet's humility.