“Once did She hold the gorgeous east in fee;…Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.” Explain the lines

Once did She hold the gorgeous east in fee;
And was the safeguard of the west: the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty. (Lines 1-4)

These lines are taken from the first quatrain of William Wordsworth’s sonnet On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic. The occasion of the poem was the fall of Venice to the conquering chariot-wheels of Napoleon. While mourning over that fall, the poet here regretfully recalls what Venice once was.

There was a time when Venice enjoyed immense power and authority. The glamorous East so noted for its riches, was subordinate to the Republic of Venice which controlled it like a feudal lord. The powerful city also acted as a bulwark for the west and stood as a security against any aggressive design. Known as the original center of European freedom, Venice well retained its long-streched dignity and honor and did not yield to any attempt to encroach upon the noble ideal of freedom anywhere.

Wordsworth here pays an unqualified eulogy to Venice, so much celebrated in the middle ages. He well brings out the political authority and the military strength of the Republic. The personification of the city and its characterization as the eldest child of liberty are quite apt and felicitous.

Also read; William Wordsworth’s philosophy of Nature as expressed in “Tintern Abbey”