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Compare Wordsworth's 'The Old Cumberland Beggar. A Description' (Romantic Writings: An Anthology, pp.78-82) with Blake's two 'Holy Thursday poems (Romantic Writings: An Anthology, pp.17 and 32).

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Introduction

TMA 04 Compare Wordsworth's 'The Old Cumberland Beggar. A Description' (Romantic Writings: An Anthology, pp.78-82) with Blake's two 'Holy Thursday poems (Romantic Writings: An Anthology, pp.17 and 32). How do the three poems differ in their treatment of the theme of poverty? The title 'The Old Cumberland Beggar' (hereafter TOCB) immediately gives us the concept that the poem relates in some way to poverty. The words 'old' and 'beggar', conjuring up an image of an old man wandering the streets. It is written in blank verse, creating an informal tone, as in storytelling. With 3 stanzas of differing lengths and no rhyme scheme, it comes across as a narrative rather than a piece of poetry. This lack of rhyme and the use of enjambements all the way through, makes it quite difficult to read as poetry. The rhythm is of Iambic Pentameter, which does help it flow to a certain extent, but this is hampered by the occasional awkward syntax. In contrast, the 'Holy Thursday' from Blake's Song of Innocence, (hereafter HTSI), written in the form of 3 quatrains, or 4-lined stanzas, has a rhyme scheme of aabb throughout, with a rhythm similar to that of a hymn or nursery rhyme. ...read more.

Middle

The beggar is not institutionalised, therefore is free to go where he chooses. The poet dominates the poem throughout, giving his romanticised views of what he sees. He uses such phrases as 'I saw an aged beggar' (L1) and 'Him from my childhood have I known' (L22), the 'I' denoting his involvement in this poem. He presents a case for other people, with how humble the villagers feel when they give to the beggar; even though they can ill afford it. The poet's involvement does give a sense of authenticity to the poem; his views are from his personal experience. However, because it is from his perspective, it is as he sees it and not actually how things might be. We don't have the beggar's point of view at all on whether he is happy to wander the countryside, begging for his food. It's as if the poet is telling us a story about someone he knew, using such statements as 'Him from my childhood have I known, and then/He was so old, he seems not older now;'(L's 22/23). The repetition of 'aged beggar' accentuates the fact that he is an old man, qualified by 'Him even the slow-pac'd wagon leaves behind' (L66) ...read more.

Conclusion

HTSI seems to offer an answer to poverty, by housing the poor in charitable workhouses, and believing this to be the answer. HTSE though, seems to be offering no answer, but questioning 'so many children poor?'(L7), then adding 'It is a land of poverty!'(L8). In effect, this poem states that workhouses are not the answer, but actually add to the misery with the children being mistreated. There is a contrast in the significance of organised charitable schemes within the two 'Holy Thursday' poems. Whereas the beggar in 'The Old Cumberland Beggar' appears to be content with his freedom and his charitable handouts. But is he happy? There is nothing in this poem to suggest otherwise; there again, we don't actually have the beggars own viewpoint. In Blake's HTSI, he is portraying how the 'Charity School service in 1788' was seen to be contributing in 'helping to nurture a future generation' and how highly 'praised the worthy patrons' were. (Notes p.414 Romantic Writings: An Anthology). Yet in HTSE, he is giving a more honest picture of how 'the treatment of children in many schools was appalling, and social reformers complained that children were flogged and half starved.'(Notes p.415 Romantic Writings: An Anthology). With TOCB, the poet seems to be reiterating this latter viewpoint, but he uses metaphors of nature to portray the good of being free, rather than seeking to dramatise the awfulness of the workhouse. ...read more.

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