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William Wordsworth’s "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802”

Updated on January 2, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

William Wordsworth

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem

Williams Wordsworth’s sonnet, "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802," delivers a message that is not always associated with the Romantics: a detailing of the beauty of the city. Country life surrounded in nature is thought to be the domain of the Romantics, but in this delightful sonnet, Wordsworth’s speaker describes a beauty that many folk, Romantic or otherwise, often overlook.

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has 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!

Recitation of Wordsworth’s Sonnet

Commentary

This poem’s movements glide through a series of images that delight the senses and gladden the heart. It plays out in the traditional Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet form.

First Movement: Romantic Effusion

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:

The opening three lines of this Wordsworth sonnet offer a typical Romantic effusion. The speaker claims what he is observing has no equal on the earth. What he sees is as "fair" as anything he has ever seen before. He adds that only someone whose soul is dulled could fail to register the "majesty" of "a sight so touching."

Second Movement: Majestic Motivation

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;

The speaker then reveals this majestic sight that has motivated his claim, "Earth has not anything to show more fair." It is not some wondrous field of flowers; it is [t]his City." The speaker has seen the city in the morning and it seems to be wearing "like a garment" the morning’s beauty. It is "silent" and "bare"; he sees "ships, towers, domes, theaters, and temples." These man-made structures, however, seem not to be enclosed and finite; they seem to be offering themselves "open" unto the fields and sky, as would a field of flowers or a valley sculpted by the hand of nature.

Third Movement: A Calming View

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!

This beautiful morning finds these city structures without a trace of smokey density that ordinarily engulf the city’s atmosphere. Instead, the speaker feels the urge to confess that his usual feelings of calmness and peace only brought forth by nature have been aroused by this "bright and glittering" sight." Even the sun has never shed light on a more serene and lovely sight as it has risen over "valley, rock, or hill."

Fourth Movement: Exploding in Wonder

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Finally, the speaker observes that the river is moving on as it is accustomed to doing. He explodes in wonder that even the houses seem to be sleeping, while the very heart of the city is still. As peace and stillness inform the Romantics’ notion of a pastoral scene, this speaker successfully demonstrates that the city in the morning with the sun rising over it can offer equal tranquillity.

(Note: Readers who are interested in experiencing other poems by this poet may find this collection useful: The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. This collection also includes "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802.")

The Sonnet Forms

The following description elucidates the differences between and among the four most employed sonnet forms engaged by poets:

Sonnet: the most commonly employed form of poem since the early 13th century. Types of sonnets include the Italian (Petrarchan), English (Spenserian, Elizabethan or Shakespearean), American (Innovative). Also, various combinations of these sonnets exist as innovative sonnets.

Elizabethan Sonnet: Three rimed quatrains and one rimed couplet in iambic pentameter. Rime scheme is ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

Petrarchan Sonnet: One octave and one sestet. Traditional rime scheme is ABBAABBACDCDCD. Often featuring a volta or turn between the octave and sestet.

American (Innovative): A fourteen line poem, often incorporating features from traditional sonnets; usually unrimed without a specific rhythmic pattern, but retains the emphatic lyrical discourse of the traditional sonnet (definition delineated and stabilized by Linda Sue Grimes)

American (Near-Sonnet): An eleven-line poem, often incorporating features from traditional sonnet, often unrimed and unrhythmed but retains the lyric intensity of traditional sonnets (term coined by Linda Sue Grimes)

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Submit a Comment
  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    4 years ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Venkatachari. Really appreciate your feedback. Have a blessed day!

  • Venkatachari M profile image

    Venkatachari M 

    4 years ago from Hyderabad, India

    Beautiful presentation of the Sonnet's meaning and context.

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