Gunpowder Plot

FEAR hath a hundred eyes that all agree
To plague her beating heart; and there is one
(Nor idlest that!) which holds communion
With things that were not, yet were 'meant' to be.
Aghast within its gloomy cavity
That eye (which sees as if fulfilled and done
Crimes that might stop the motion of the sun)
Beholds the horrible catastrophe
Of an assembled Senate unredeemed
From subterraneous Treason's darkling power:
Merciless act of sorrow infinite!
Worse than the product of that dismal night,
When gushing, copious as a thunder-shower,
The blood of Huguenots through Paris streamed.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

William Wordsworth is one of the greatest and most influential poets of the romantics whose theories and ideas created a new tradition in poetry. Although he began writing when he was a schoolboy he wasn't published until 1793. He often visited places for their scenic beauty and in the summer of 1790 he took a walking tour through France where he became an enthusiastic convert to the French Revolution. Disheartened by the hostilities between France and Great Briton in 1793, Wordsworth remained sympathetic to the French cause. Returning to England in 1799 his intellectual and political sympathies underwent transformation with Napoleon's rise to power and by 1810 he was staunchly conservative. As he advanced in age his poetic vision and inspiration diminished and his work took on a moralistic tone and dulled in comparison to the power and beauty of his earlier poems.

In 1822 he wrote a series known as the Ecclesiastical Sonnets of which includes the Gunpowder Plot. November 5th is famous for this event and is also called Guy Fawkes Day. Two conspirators Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes decided to blow up the Parliament. Along with eleven other men and on behalf of the persecuted Roman Catholic s in England, the Catesby's Conspirators used thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in an attempt to annihilate the established government and church. The Catholic sympathizers were supposed to have filled the basement of the House of Lords with gunpowder, which Fawkes was to ignite when the Protestant King James I met with Parliament on November 5, 1605. Guy Fawkes was caught red handed and so gained the most notoriety. Initially he gave his name as John Johnson. After their trials in 1605 many of the conspirators were tortured in the Tower of London, subsequently hanged, then drawn and quartered.

With the plot discovered the King's deliverance is still celebrated each year. It is with a heavy-handed and cumbersome prose that Wordsworth compares this failed conspiracy and why it generated more anti-Catholic sentiment than the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of French Protestants (Huguenots) in Paris on August 24, 1572.


Blair, Bob:

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Wordsworth, William," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:
accessed November 5, 2001

CST Approved.