I raised the issue in my last post of the political and economic forces driving Romantic poetry, citing Roger Sales, who argues that in the Romantic authors we find apologists for the destruction of English rural life.[i] Jonathan Langford, in a comment on that post, wrote that “while I’m willing to concede political implications of poetry (often unintended, and sometimes counter what was intended), I take a lot of convincing to see the political and/or economic as driving Romantic poetry.”[ii] I’m not certain Sales is right — I’m still reading the book — but it seems to me that his main point goes more to the “unintended” element Langford notes, when he describes the pastoral as “deceptive and prescriptive. It offers a political interpretation of both past and present.…. provid[ing] sheep’s clothing for aristocratic wolves, or indeed for anybody who was on the side of the victors in the civil war which was fought for control of rural society.”[iii] If you read Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” closely (and you can in that last post) you can’t help but see the link between the poet’s nostalgia for the past and the pastoral view of the world. The poem is saturated in nostalgia.
As for the political and economic implications, I will respond here as I did to Jonathan’s comment: note the injured tone of the poem below, and guess who wrote it, and about whom, and on what occasion:
The Lost Leader
Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a riband to stick in his coat—
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
So much was theirs who so little allowed:
How all our copper had gone for his service!
Rags—were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
Made him our pattern to live and to die!