A Poem by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
A Study Guide
Type of Work
......."Composed 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.
.......William 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.
.......The 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.
.......Wordsworth's 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.Theme: Seeing the City in a New Light
.......London 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.
.......The 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,
.......1...... . ..2......... ....3................4..................5..
Earth HAS..|..not AN..|..y THING..|..to SHOW..|..more FAIR:
........1....... . ..2......... ....3.................4.................5
Dull WOULD..|..he BE..|..of SOUL |who COULD..|..pass BY
.......The 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.
Line 2, alliteration: Dull would he be of soul who could pass byStudy Questions and Writing Topics