Literature Study GuidesPoems Of William Wordsworth SelectedComposed Upon Westminster Bridge Sept 3 1802 Summary

Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected) | Study Guide

William Wordsworth

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Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected) | "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802" | Summary

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Summary

"Westminster Bridge" was first published in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). It is a 14-line Petrarchan sonnet, a form with the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDC DCD.

Leaving the world of nature, the speaker reflects on the view of London that inspires his understanding of the potential for beauty in ordinary life. The octet (first eight lines) introduces a picture of London in beautiful and visual terms of splendor. The city, seen from afar from a bridge, is something splendid, clean, and unmatched by any other sight. The following sestet (six lines) move the picture ahead, imagining the river and the houses lying along it as alive with the hearts of the people in them. Their lives are suspended before the day begins and life continues. Only the Thames River itself is moving, and all else seems in a magical sleep.

Analysis

"Westminster Bridge" contains unusual praise from Wordsworth for city life. Normally he would find a concentration of people and buildings and commerce oppressive, but in the poem through some magical transformation there is only calm and peace. But clearly the potential for noise and disruption is present. The air is clean and unpolluted, but the poet knows full well that soon enough it will be foul and smoky again. No one seems awake or alive, and the river flows on its own. While people do not move the river, soon enough they will be present going about their business and trade on it, and all will change. There is deep calm, but the poem speaks of the "first splendor " of the sun, and the reader knows the calm of early morning cannot last. If the houses are now all "asleep" and the "mighty heart" of the city lies still, that abnormal state cannot and will not last for long. The city only wears this beauty like a "garment" that has been put on to cover something else by the day's first light, yet London at the time was already a thriving and throbbing metropolis. Nature is powerless against the energies of the city once it awakens, so at least the speaker has been given the privilege of being in this place at the right time to see the beauties of nature that reassert themselves once the city stops its fast pace and hurry. The end of the enchantment is not shown but is clearly sensed.

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