Wordsworth's Poetical Works Summary and Analysis

"Composed upon Westminster Bridge"

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In lines 1 through 8, which together compose a single sentence, the speaker describes what he sees as he stands on Westminster Bridge looking out at the city. He begins by saying that there is nothing "more fair" on Earth than the sight he sees, and that anyone who could pass the spot without stopping to look has a "dull" soul. The poem takes place in the "beauty of the morning," which lies like a blanket over the silent city. He then lists what he sees in the city and mentions that the city seems to have no pollution and lies "Open unto the fields, and to the sky."

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.

In lines 9 through 14, the speaker tells the reader that the sun has never shone more beautifully, even on nature ("valley , rock, or hill"), and that he has never seen or felt such deep calm. He goes on to describe the way that the river (which he personifies) glides along at the slow pace it chooses. The poem ends with an exclamation, saying that "the houses seem asleep" and the heart of the city is still.

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!

Analysis

"Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802" is an Italian sonnet, written in iambic pentameter with ten syllables per line. The rhyme scheme of the poem is abbaabbacdcdcd. The poem was actually written about an experience that took place on July 31, 1802 during a trip to France with Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy Wordsworth.

The poem begins with a rather shocking statement, especially for a Romantic poet: "Earth has not anything to show more fair." This statement is surprising because Wordsworth is not speaking of nature, but of the city. He goes on to list the beautiful man-made entities therein, such as "Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples." In fact, nature's influence isn't described until the 7th line, when the speaker relates that the city is "open to the fields, and to the sky." While the city itself may not be a part of nature, it is certainly not in conflict with nature. This becomes even more clear in the next line, when the reader learns that the air is "smokeless" (free from pollution).

Wordsworth continues to surprise his reader by saying that the sun has never shone more beautifully, even on natural things. He then personifies 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.