The poem Incidents upon Salisbury Plain (otherwise known as Guilt and Sorrow) is a prime example of Wordsworth’s political visions of revolution for social equality, being weaved into his poetry. In the poem, Wordsworth writes of a society wrought with war and the misery experienced by a vagrant woman and wandering soldier. The poem captures a sense of despair, loneliness and disillusionment - no doubt a poetic representation of how it felt to live in a time of civil unrest. It could be said that the wanderer is comparable to the lower class, displaced without care, constantly searching for a sense of belonging. Wordsworth effectively exposes the isolation and despondency of the working class in the sense of dejection portrayed by the protagonists. The narrative structure is such that it forces the reader to view England through the eyes of someone who lived a poverty stricken existence. In the first few lines, Wordsworth details the differences between social castes and the segregation of one from another. This introduction can be seen as an insight into the poem’s pursuit of a means to transgress social limitations and thus demonise a social hierarchy which promoted inequality. The female vagrant acts as a device to solicit sympathy for families broken by war:
“Husband and children one by one, by sword
And scourge of fiery fever: every tear
Dried up, despairing, desolate, on board
A British ship I waked as from a trance restored”7 (lines 321-324)
The woman is detached from reality, having lost everything she once knew and is left wandering Salisbury Plain, finding solace in a decaying spital. As within many of his poems, Wordsworth reverts back to nature as a symbol of purity and hope, presenting the morning sunlight as a physical embodiment of the optimism felt by the protagonists. It is a literal representation of the ‘coming of a new dawn’ in which the soldier and vagrant rise up against the societal rebuttal and neglect that they have been subjected to. Although Wordsworth places huge emphasis on nature as a force with which we should be reconciled, his revolution was not primarily “a back-to-nature movement”. Rather his movement was one which “called for a fresh and mutually fructifying reunion of reality and ideality.”8 Essentially, Wordsworth was calling on people to restore balance in their lives, rather than perpetuating the cycle of consumerism which meant that the rich became richer, and the poor poorer.
Wordsworth believed that through poetry he could grasp the inner workings of human nature, thereby illuminating to his readers the ingrained psychological facets of life. In Salisbury Plain there is a clear sense of revolution; the two wanderers are determined to survive and rise against the darkness, despite adverse conditions. This deep seated, indomitable desire to survive is a feature of evolution, implying that revolting against a system that suppresses and denies life, is simply an instinctive action. It is this...