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Wordsworth’s Composed ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’, September 3, 1802, is a pretty straightforward poem. It features a speaker sharing his impressions of the view from, you guessed it, Westminster Bridge. The poem takes shape as the speaker describes the sights and feelings of a quiet early morning before the city springs to life.
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:
Wordsworth begins by describing the view from Westminster Bridge and praises it, says that “there is nothing fairer in all the world”. And anyone who could see such a sight and just carry-on walking past without stopping to admire the view would be soulless indeed.
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.
London appears to wear the morning’s beauty like a piece of clothing. The ships, towers, and other buildings that make up the London skyline are silent and ‘bare’. Here there is no flashiness but plain and simple beauty, despite the man-made origins of these structures.
These buildings appear to be adapting to nature: they ‘lie / Open’ to the fields and the sky, those earthly and ethereal landscapes that sandwich them, as if the London buildings are between earthly beauty and the beauty of the heavens, and exist not in contrast to them but as a natural bridge between them. Because the workaday world hasn’t started yet and the wheels of industry are still, the air is ‘smokeless’ at the moment: clear and clean.
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:
Wordsworth praises being a nature poet that the sun never rose so beautifully, not even the natural features of valleys, rocks, or hills, have looked so beautiful and the poet felt calm to watch the scales and the outlines of these city buildings. Wordsworth connects with the calm of the country’s capital before the business day begins.
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!
Even the Thames appears to be taking its time, slowly flowing through the city and under Wordsworth’s feet. Wordsworth returns to the buildings of the city in his reference to the houses: the people are indoors asleep, but the bricks and mortar of the houses seem to be hypnotized. The heart of London, the people who make it what it is, are all lying asleep, still and calm.
Wordsworth’s poems were a celebration of the natural beauty provided by the earth, and it is thus unusual to come across a poem of his that so celebrates the beauty of man-made structures. Wordsworth’s admiration takes the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, an Italian sonnet that was primarily used to express romantic love. It is made up of 14 lines: an octave, followed by a sestet.
In the end, the poet appears to be stunned into complete silence by the beauty of London. ‘Dear God! The very houses seem asleep; and all that mighty heart is lying still’, he writes, using the exclamation to bring to a head the point that he has been labouring towards the entire poem: the beauty of London in the early morning is a stunning sight, and one that should be seen to be believed.