Upon Westminster Bridge" is a lyric poem in the form of a sonnet. In English,
there are two types of sonnets, the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean, both
with fourteen lines. Wordsworth's poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, developed
by the Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374), a Roman
Catholic priest. A Petrarchan sonnet consists of an eight-line stanza (octave)
and a six-line stanza (sestet). The first stanza presents a theme or problem,
and the second stanza develops the theme or suggests a solution to the
problem. The rhyme of a Petrarchan sonnet is discussed under Rhyme
Scheme and Meter, below.
Wordsworth completed the poem between July 31 and September 3, 1802. Longman,
Hurst, Rees, and Orme published the work in 1807 in Poems in Two Volumes,
a collection of Wordworth's poems.
setting is London as seen from Westminster Bridge, which connects the south
bank of the Thames River with Westminster on the north bank. Westminster,
called an inner borough, is now part of London.
inspiration for the poem was the view he beheld from Westminster Bridge
on the morning of July 31, 1802, when most of the residents were still
in bed and the factories had not yet stoked their fires and polluted the
air with smoke. He and his sister, Dorothy, were crossing the bridge in
a coach taking them to a boat for a trip across the English Channel to
France. In her diary, Dorothy wrote:
We mounted the Dover
Coach at Charing Cross. It was a beautiful morning. The City, St. Paul's,
with the River and a Multitude of little boats, made a most beautiful sight....
The houses were not overhung with their cloud of smoke and they were spread
out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly with such pure light that
there was even something like a purity of Nature's own grand spectacles.
Seeing the City in a New Light
during the workday was rude and dirty. A walk across a bridge or through
streets and alleyways confronted the pedestrian with smoke, dust, grimy
urchins, clacking carts, ringing hammers, barking dogs, jostling shoppers,
smelly fish, rotting fruit. But at dawn on a cloudless morning, when London
was still asleep and the fires of factories had yet to be stoked, the city
joined with nature to present the early riser a tableau of glistening waters,
majestic towers, unpeopled boats on the River Thames--bobbing and swaying--and
the glory of empty, silent streets. The message here is that even an ugly,
quacking duckling can become a lovely, soundless swan.
Scheme and Meter
rhyme scheme of "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge" and other Petrarchan
sonnets is as follows: (1) first stanza (octave):
abba, abba; (2) second stanza (sestet): cd, cd, cd (or another combination,
such as cde, cde; cdc, cdc; or cde, dce.
meter of the poem is
with ten syllables (five iambic feet) per line. (An iambic foot consists
of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.) The first two
lines of the poem demonstrate the metric pattern:
Composed Upon Westminster
Bridge By William Wordsworth
Text With Summary
has not anything to show more fair:
would he be of soul who could pass by
sight so touching in its majesty:
City now doth like a garment wear
beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
unto the fields, and to the sky,
bright and glittering in the smokeless air.......8
did sun more beautifully steep
his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
river glideth at his own sweet will:
God! the very houses seem asleep;
all that mighty heart is lying still!...............14
The first eight lines present
a view of the city as it wears the sunlit morning like a garment and its
edifices glitter beneath the sky. The last six lines then boldly declare
that this man-made "formation" is just as beautiful in the sunlight as
any natural formation, such as a valley or hill. Moreover, it is just as
calming to the observer, for even the houses seem to sleep, like the people
most striking figure of speech in the poem is personification. It dresses
the city in a garment and gives it a heart, makes the sun "in his first
splendour" a benefactor, and bestows on the river a will of its own.
of other figures of speech in the poem are as follows:
Line 2, alliteration:
Dull would he be
of soul who could pass by
Line 3, alliteration:
in its majesty
Lines 4, 5 simile:
This City now doth like a garment wear / The beauty of the morning: silent
bare (comparison of beauty to a garment)
Line 13: metaphor:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; (comparison of houses to a creature
Questions and Writing Topics
Write a poem describing a view
of your community at dawn or at sunset.
Can the theme of the poem apply
to a person? In other words, does a person change in relation to his or
her environment or in relation to the time of day or another factor?
Write an essay that compares
and contrasts the tone and theme of "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge"
with the tone and theme of Wordsworth's "The
World Is Too Much With Us."
What is the meaning of
his first splendour (line 10)?