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Simon Lee: A Step Beyond The Humanitarian

950 words - 4 pages

Simon Lee, by William Wordsworth, uses the concept of addressing the reader directly to elicit a more convincing end result than that of The Beggar's Petition, which relies solely upon narrative to entrap the reader in sympathy for the characters at hand and in the end the feeling that nothing real was accomplished. Through the use of this "direct" language, Wordsworth steps beyond the typical conventions of the humanitarian poem to dive deeper than just sympathy and into the realm of social awareness. Despite the similar forms and simplistic language, tools of the trade for humanitarian poetry, Simon Lee is a much more involving and effective poem.

The two poems in question start off strikingly similar, both painting a picture of an old man withered into poverty. Both poems also begin with a narration style account of the characters. This however changes when The Beggar's Petition, in stanza two, shifts into a first person account, effectively showing you the pain that this seemingly non-existent man endures. The beggar begins by stating.

These tatter'd cloaths my poverty bespeak;

These hoary locks proclaim my lengthen'd years;

And many a sorrow in my grief-worn cheek

Has been the channel to a flood of tears!

This passage serves to show a character in The Beggar's Petition, that fits the name of the poem. The character is begging, pleading, and reaching to touch the emotion in the reader without speaking directly to anyone. These words seem to be almost a monologue of grief and despair.

On the other side of this spectrum, Simon Lee maintains the narrative form going through a seemingly methodical list of the things that ail Simon Lee, "and he is lean and he is sick; his body, dwindled and awry/...his legs are thin and dry." The effect of this portrays an almost withdrawn, factual approach to the suffering of Simon Lee. Taking into account that it is not he himself listing these ailments, this form takes on more of the Smithian ideal of suffering in that you feel more sympathy for someone who is stoic in their pain than someone who whines about it, as the Beggar does. Simon Lee is not begging for help, simply existing in a state of poverty and that is the essential difference between the characters of these two poems.

Simon Lee, however, loses its narrative form around line 61 where the author states

My gentle Reader, I perceive

How patiently you've waited,

And now I fear that you expect

Some tale will be related.

It is here where Wordsworth strays from the typical form of the humanitarian poem, actually going as far to be quasi satirical of them. By playing on the ideas of expectations, the audience is drawn into look at...

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