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When the impious rule

In April 1940, the Germans attacked Denmark and Norway. On May 10th, the Germans invaded Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. The Second World War, with all its horrors, was underway. On March 18th 1940, Queen Elizabeth gave Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, "some lines from William Wordsworth's poem The Excursion which had caught her imagination. She had copied them out in her own hand" (Shawcross biography). She was particularly struck by the last lines -

At this day

When a Tartarean darkness overspreads

The groaning nations; when the impious rule,

By will or by established ordinance,

Their own dire agents, and constrain the good

To acts which they abhor; though I bewail

This triumph, yet the pity of my heart

Prevents me not from owning that the law,

By which mankind now suffers, is most just.

For by superior energies; more strict

Affiance with each other; faith more firm

In their unhallowed principles; the bad

Have fairly earned a victory o'er the weak,

The vacillating, inconsistent good.


Wordsworth wrote The Excursion in 1814.

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