October, 1803

by William Wordsworth

One might believe that natural miseries
Had blasted France, and made of it a land
Unfit for men; and that in one great band
Her sons were bursting forth, to dwell at ease.
But 'tis a chosen soil, where sun and breeze
Shed gentle favours: rural works are there,
And ordinary business without care;
Spot rich in all things that can soothe and please!
How piteous then that there should be such dearth
Of knowledge; that whole myriads should unite
To work against themselves such fell despite:
Should come in phrensy and in drunken mirth,
Impatient to put out the only light
Of Liberty that yet remains on earth!

These times strike monied worldlings with dismay:
Even rich men, brave by nature, taint the air
With words of apprehension and despair:
While tens of thousands, thinking on the affray,
Men unto whom sufficient for the day
And minds not stinted or untilled are given,
Sound, healthy, children of the God of heaven,
Are cheerful as the rising sun in May.
What do we gather hence but firmer faith
That every gift of noble origin
Is breathed upon by Hope's perpetual breath;
That virtue and the faculties within
Are vital,--and that riches are akin
To fear, to change, to cowardice, and death?

Vanguard of Liberty, ye men of Kent,
Ye children of a Soil that doth advance
Her haughty brow against the coast of France,
Now is the time to prove your hardiment!
To France be words of invitation sent!
They from their fields can see the countenance
Of your fierce war, may ken the glittering lance
And hear you shouting forth your brave intent.
Left single, in bold parley, ye, of yore,
Did from the Norman win a gallant wreath;
Confirmed the charters that were yours before;—
No parleying now! In Britain is one breath;
We all are with you now from shore to shore:—
Ye men of Kent, 'tis victory or death!



Edward Steichen


October, 1803


Wordsworth, William

Year of Publication:


Age Appropriate:

15 - 16















Literary Period:


Things to Discuss:

What is happening in Europe is vital to the understanding of these stanzas. There are four independant sonnets (each titled October 1803), written a few months after war broke out in May between England and Napoleon's French troops. This event prompted Wordsworth's composing of these lines. All England was "in anticipation" of Napoleon's project for the invasion of England. It was never carried out, but it galvanized English citizens to the extent that "three hundred thousand volunteers were enlisted in Great Britain by the 10th of August 1803."

About the Poem:

One of several sonnets dedicated to liberty and national independence.