Sonnet: Composed Upon Westminster Bridge

This poem, in the form of a sonnet, is different from other poems by Wordsworth in several ways. Romantic poets, usually fed up with what is contemporary and just near them, went for themes which refer to things long ago and far away. Wordsworth too did the same in most of his nature poems. But here we find him right in the centre of the city, awed by the beauty of the city early one morning. The bridge referred to in the poem is across the River Thames in London.

, this is an Italian sonnet. There are fourteen lines which are split into an octave and sestet. The split is demarked using the difference in the rhyme scheme which is abbaabbacdcdcd.  The poem is written in iambic pentameter, with ten syllables per line, each syllable in each feet stressed alternatively. This metre, being close to the rhythm of common English speech gives the poem a certain simplicity and ordinariness.

The poem begins with an extreme eulogy,

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

The poet now adds another statement in praise of the scene he is witnessing. He says that anyone who could just pass by without noticing the beauty of the scene might be dull in his soul. He calls the scene majestic.

He notices that at this time of the day the beauty of the morning drapes the city ‘like a garment’. It is to be noticed here that, while the city is not beautiful on its own, it is the beauty of the morning that adds charm to the city’s otherwise dull landscape. At this time of the day the city atmosphere is quite clean, ‘bright and glittering’. The temples, ships in ports, towers, domes and theatres lie bare and open in silence to the fields below and the sky above. The reader gets a holistic view of the scene without it getting fragmented into a patch work of visuals. It is the conglomeration of different things that makes the poet use the word majestic which is suggestive of its expansive nature.

Surprisingly, the poet who has extolled the way the countryside and sylvan surroundings excel the urban landscapes tells us that,

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendor…

any other place than this. Here is a hidden reference to his other poems where he has been talking about ‘valleys, rocks and hills’. The only thing that has appeared in those poems and again here is the river.

The river glideth at his own free will:

The poet feels exactly the same way he felt when he confronted the rural landscapes in his other poems. Rather than talk about what he sees, the poet prefers to tell us the effect the sight has on his mind. This, in fact, is the identity of Wordsworth’s poems.

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The poet personifies the elements in the scene, giving life to the sun, the river, the houses, and finally to the whole city, which has a symbolic heart. The reader imagines that the city’s heart beats rapidly during the day, while everything and everyone in it is bustling about, but now, in the early morning hours, the city’s heart is “lying still.” By using personification in his poem, Wordsworth brings a kind of spirit to the city, which is usually seen as a simple construction of rock and metal.

However, it should be noted that the poet is impressed by the city as it is experienced during a time when its urban nature is most hidden. It is the hustle and bustle of the city that account for it not being a favourite place for those who love peace and quietness. But the city, as Wordsworth describes it, is very quiet.

Dear God! The very houses seem asleep:

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Thus it can be argued that, even though this is a poem about an urban landscape, the poet is only finding it beautiful at a time when it most resembles a rural setting. The busy nature and the noise that we associate with a city, the aspects that gives it its identity is not what is highlighted here. What has caught the attention of the poet is exactly the same things that have caught his attention in and around the Lake District—the peace, quietness and tranquility.


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