In the beginning of "London, 1802" William Wordsworth cries out to the dead poet, John Milton, telling him that he should be alive, because England needs him now. He goes on to describe England as a swampy marshland of "stagnant waters" where everything that was once a natural gift (such as religion, chivalry, and art, symbolized respectively by the altar, the sword, and the pen) has been lost to the scourge of modernity:
Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour;
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness.
The speaker continues by telling Milton that the English are selfish and asking him to raise them up. He asks Milton to bring the English ("us") "manners, virtue, freedom, power":
We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
The speaker then tells Milton that his "soul was like a Star," because he was different even from his contemporaries in terms of the virtues listed above. The speaker tells Milton that his voice was like the sea and the sky, a part of nature and therefore natural: "majestic, free." The speaker also compliments Milton's ability to embody "cheerful godliness" even while doing the "lowliest duties":
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
"London, 1802" is a sonnet with a rhyme scheme of abbaabbacddece. The poem is written in the second person and addresses the late poet John Milton, who lived from 1608-1674 and is most famous for having written Paradise Lost.
The poem has two main purposes, one of which is to pay homage to Milton by saying that he can save the entirety of England with his noblity and virtue. The other purpose of the poem is to draw attention to what Wordsworth feels are the problems with English society.
According to Wordsworth, England was once a great place of happiness, religion, chivalry, art, and literature, but at the present moment those virtues have been lost. Wordsworth can only describe modern England as a swampland, where people are selfish and must be taught about things like "manners, virtue, freedom, power."
Notice that Wordsworth compliments Milton by comparing him to things found in nature, such as the stars, the sea, and "the heavens." For Wordsworth, being likened to nature is the highest compliment possible.