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Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 -- William Wordsworth

This week's theme: songs of the city
(Poem #462) 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!
-- William Wordsworth
Today's poem makes an interesting contrast with the (presumably written in
the same year) "London 1802" - the 'fen of stagnant waters' is nowhere in
evidence, replaced instead by a sight 'touching in its majesty'.

The city dweller in me notes that Wordsworth has exhibited his usual
facility at both observation and description. The 'silent, bare' beauty of
the morning, the city steeped in the early morning sun, the deep sense of
calm, are as real, and as worthy of the poet's pen, as any babbling brook or
forest glade.

He also does a beautiful job of blending the images of the city and his own
reactions to them into one organic whole[1], shifting voices effortlessly
while never losing the central theme. And the last line is simply exquisite.

[1] see my criticism of 'The Simplon Pass', poem #441

Notes:

  Dorothy Wordsworth in her Journal July 31, 1802, described the scene as
  she and her brother left London, early in the morning, for their
  month-long visit to Calais: "It was a beautiful morning. The city, St.
  Paul's, with the river, and a multitude of little boats, made a most
  beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not
  overhung by their cloud of smoke, and they were spread out endlessly, yet
  the sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light; that there was
  something like the purity of one of nature's own grand spectacles."

        -- http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/wordswor17.html

[From the poem, I'd guess that it had rained the night before - m.]

Links:

  We've run a number of Wordsworth's poems in the past - see the index at
  www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels

  And for previous poems that fit into the theme, or are just interesting to
  read alongside, see
  poem #5
  poem #119
  poem #154
  poem #319
  poem #361
  poem #382

  And doubtless many others

-martin

9 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Amit Chakrabarti said...

I'd suggested this poem for the minstrels list way back

when I was visiting London (that was over a year ago). For

some reason T did not like it, so it had to wait for M to

post I guess!

Maraglino said...

All that is written is incomplete!!!

Clara Flemons said...

I was standing with my good friend Rona and my 11yr old daughter Isabella on
Hampstead Heath 28th August 2006 , just a small walk down from Kenwood
House when we came across a vista point with a bronze plaque identifying the
central London skyline and buildings , clear in view opposite where we were
standing.
Isabella read the beginnings of Wordsworth's poem 'Westminster Bridge'
that is engraved on the bronze along with identification of the
aforementioned buildings. I had to agree with every word. It was a beautiful
late summers early evening and the view was stunning.
Clara Flemons (York)

bernardmartin said...

I'm intrigued by the 'smokeless'comment. We know London as 'The Smoke.' 1802
is the year after de Loutherbourg finished his famous painting of
Coalbrookdale. What's happening here? A romanticisation or ruralisation of
London in the face of the threat from the real world .?

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