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

Updated on September 25, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

William Wordsworth

Source

"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!

Reading of Wordsworth’s Sonnet

Romantic Effusion

Written in the traditional Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet form, the poem’s movements glide through a series of images that delight the senses and gladden the heart

Introduction

William 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.

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

First Movement: "Earth has not anything to show more fair"

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: "This City now doth, like a garment, wear"

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: "All bright and glittering in the smokeless air"

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: "The river glideth at his own sweet will”

Finally, the speaker observes that the river is moving on as it is accustomed to doing.

The speaker then explodes in wonder that even the houses seem to be sleeping, while the very heart of the city is still.

Peace and stillness nearly always inform the Romantics’ notion of a pastoral scene.

However, this speaker has successfully demonstrated that the city in the morning with the sun rising over it can offer equal tranquillity.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
    Author

    Linda Sue Grimes 2 years ago from U.S.A.

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

  • Venkatachari M profile image

    Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

    Beautiful presentation of the Sonnet's meaning and context.

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