William Wordsworth – ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’
Born in 1770 in the beautiful countryside of the north of England, Wordsworth often wrote of his deep love of nature and the countryside; in this sonnet, however, he recalls a moment when he and his sister Dorothy travelled to London and walked across Westminster Bridge in the early morning, before most people were awake. It is interesting that even when in the middle of England’s biggest city he still compares what he can see with the hills and valleys of his home countryside in the Lake District.
The poem’s language is remarkably simple – something that Wordsworth was always keen to manage in his writing – perhaps reflecting here the immediate and unsophisticated sense that he feels of how beautiful the London view is; the opening line, for instance, could hardly be more straightforward, and after a description of some of the sights that strike him so vividly Wordsworth ends the poem on a similarly and utterly simple note.
Some points for classroom discussion
What is the effect of the simple and straightforward listing of words in lines 5 and 6? How does Wordsworth make such plain description so effective? How many similes or metaphors are there in the whole sonnet? What happens in line 9, the beginning of the sestet? And what is the impact of the closing two lines?
Dorothy kept a diary for many years, and on July 27th 1802 she wrote this; you may like to compare what she wrote with what her brother’s poem says. Which of the two accounts and descriptions do you find more striking?
“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 even something like the purity of one of nature’s own grand spectacles.”
Also see: Elizabeth Brewster ‘ Where I Come From ‘.
There is some useful biographical material about Wordsworth on these websites: