Composed upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth

Earth has not any thing 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!

Summary and Analysis

The sonnet is in the octave-sestet pattern rhyming abba abba cdcdcd, an Italian rather than an English sonnet. After having read about Wordsworth’s poetic temperament, ‘Westminister Bridge’ comes as a surprise, Wordsworth’s distrust of the city because of the way it encroaches upon nature, severing the man-nature ties found in poetic expression. Moreover, the city was hostile and noisy from which the poet sought to escape to the quiet spaces of the Lake District.

In this sonnet, however, the tone is celebratory, because it describes a moment in the past, at a time when the inhabitants were off the streets, in bed, perhaps asleep, and it is that of time of the morning when stillness envelopes the city. The poem captures the time when he passed through London, in July 1802. In some other notes he recorded that the lines occurred to him on the roof of a coach. It was perhaps completed on September 3rd. His sister, Dorothy’s diary entry for the journey supported the description of London created in the sonnet.

The first three lines introduce the reader to what the rest of the poem is likely to contain a detailed description of a place that is majestic and awe-inspiring, and expected to touch every soul. The next four lines stress, through the simple word, “now” that London is like this at a particular point of time. For the poet, it is that point of time which is important. The morning is like a dress covering the city beautifully – the beauty is contained in the moment of silence which speaks volumes of the unity between nature and society. There seems to be a continuum between what is man-made, i.e. artificial and nature “the sky”, “the fields”, because they lend themselves to an experience of harmony. The air too for that moment of morning is free from anything offensive or unpleasant. Once again the idea of harmony is created by images of harmony.

The concluding sestet reinforces the uniqueness of the experience, through the repetitive sound of Never. “Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!” This experience of London becomes special in the life of the poet because it spreads a sense of calm and the idea is connected with the sense of “sweet will” in the next line. The beauty, the security are born of a sense of freedom – living like nature with its own volition.

The closing lines extend the continuum to include God the creator of the human heart which is capable of such a wide range of emotions, responses and experiences. It is at peace with itself because it has absorbed the peace outside. Critics have also pointed to the glorification of a city of London which is the pride of any Englishman.

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