Wordsworth’s sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge
Transcript of Video - Composed Upon Westminster Bridge
Earth has (hath) not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
Background - a brief biography of the poet William Wordsworth
Insights, themes and ideas for interpretation
Although the full title of the piece was given as ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3rd, 1802,’ it was in fact not published until 1807, and was also most likely inspired in July of 1802 rather than September. A summer poem.
It is a very fine example of the Romantic movement in poetry - one not necessarily concerned with romantic love, but rather with an appreciation of the forces of nature in all their sublimity and sometimes savage beauty. This reached it’s peak during the latter 18th and early 19th centuries, the very world into which Wordsworth was born.
The poet stands and reflects on a moment of early morning stillness upon Westminster Bridge.
He compares the power and splendour of natural phenomena, ‘valley rock or hill,’ with the latent intensity of the city, like a mighty engine or ‘heart’ at rest.
He is surprised, amazed and yet comforted by the peace and stillness (the smokeless air) of his surroundings, usually so bustling and loud.
Ultimately the poem , almost Zen-like in its sentiments, records a moment of transcendent, spontaneous understanding of one’s place within the wider world and that all things, great or small, animate or inanimate, partake of one unifying whole.
The poet William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in Cumbria, in the north of England where the spectacular and rugged landscape inspired in him an enduring love of nature.
He studied at Cambridge University and began writing verse at an early age, eventually settling in the south-west of England where, together with his friend and fellow poet Samuel Coleridge, he established what was to become the Romantic Movement in English poetry.
He also travelled extensively in France, Switzerland and Germany where he was inspired by the radical political sentiments prevalent on the continent at the time.
In 1799, he and his sister Dorothy, to whom he was very close, moved to Grasmere in the Lake District where he continued to write some of his most inspired poems.
He married in 1802 but two of his children died in infancy. And with increasing years, the radical political views he had held as a young man altered and mellowed.
He was awarded the title of Poet Laureate in 1842, but his best work was by then already behind him. He died in 1850 and was buried in his beloved Grasmere.