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An Analysis and Interpretation of William Wordsworth`s "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge"

Akademische Arbeit 2019 10 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Literatur, Werke


Table of contents

1. A short Introduction

2. "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge" - Analysis and Interpretation

3. Conclusion


1. A short Introduction

William Wordsworth, a co-founder and representative of Romanticism, wrote “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” when he was on the way to France with his sister Dorothy Wordsworth. He wanted to meet his illegitimate daughter. In the poem Wordsworth describes the view they observed, when crossing Westminster Bridge during the early morning hours (cf. Mullan 2014, online). Around this time the Industrial Revolution took place in Great Britain. Thus, the growth of manufacturing and production boosted the industry and promoted the development of new inventions as well as innovations (cf. Britannica online 2019, online).

Romanticism or the Romantic Period was an artistic and intellectual movement from the late 18th to the mid-19th century which influenced European literature, painting, music as well as architecture. Moreover, the romantic period has put it emphasis on the appreciation of nature and emotional sensitivity of humans. (cf. Ferber 2010: 12). Nevertheless it is uncommon for Wordsworth to write about a city, especially in such a positive tone, since he is a co-founder and important poet of the Romantic period (cf. Mullan 2014, online).

With this seminar paper I intend to show Wordsworth's uncommon way of appreciating London as an element of nature in his poem “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” and how the poet refers to the Industrial Revolution and the Romantic Period. Firstly I plan to briefly summarize the poem and then find out how the atmosphere of the poem is created by analysing its language and use of personification. I will also take a closer look on the poem's form and how rhetorical figures are being used. This also includes an analysis of the meter, rhyme scheme and its relation to the theme of the poem.

The primary source of this research paper is the poem “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” itself as it was written by William Wordsworth. For a more in-depth understanding of the material I will use a number of articles, books as well as online sources.

2. “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” - Analysis and Interpretation

The poem „Upon Westminster Bridge” by William Wordsworth describes the beautiful view from the Westminster Bridge over the Thames and the city of London in the early morning. Furthermore, the full title “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” tells the reader already that the poem was composed on the Westminster Bridge in London in 1803. This happened after Wordsworth and his sister had passed the bridge to get to France in order to get in touch with his illegitimate daughter Caroline (cf. Mullan: 2014, online). The opening line “EARTH has not anything to show more fair;” (Composed Upon Westminster Bridge: l. 1) reveals that there is nothing more beautiful in the entire world than the scenery, which is described in the poem. Also, in the lines two and three the poet claims that only people with a lack of emotions could not notice this beautiful view. In verse four to seven the poet mentions the silence of the city and says that London's buildings merge with the surrounding nature. The eight line gives the reader an image of the shining and clean city of London. In verse nine to ten the speaker claims that the sun has not shone this beautiful on any natural landscape (cf. ll 1-8). The following line shows the reader that it is the first time the speaker experiences this feeling of calmness: “Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!” (l. 9). In the last three lines the poet describes the natural flow of the river and the entire tranquillity of the city. To sum up, it can be said that in the first section (lines one to eight) the poet writes about the beautiful features London has in the morning hours and in the second section (lines nine to fourteen) he compares this beauty to nature as well as he shares his inner world (cf. ll. 1-14).

Either way, the entire poem has a very positive and calm atmosphere, which is produced by the description of the aesthetic scenery with words such as “silent, bare” (l. 5), “bright and glittering” (l. 8). Moreover, the speaker expresses his appreciation for the city by using words such as “majesty” (l. 3) and “splendour” (l. 10). Wordsworth uses numerous personifications, for instance, “This city now doth like a garment wear” (l. 4), “Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temple lie” (l. 6), “The river glideth at his own sweet will” (l. 12), “The very houses seem asleep” (l. 13). This gives the reader the impression that city and nature are living beings with a soul. The lines “Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie / Open unto the fields, and to the sky,-“ (ll. 6-7) shows that the speaker does not see the urban area separated from the rural world as there is no barrier between the elements of city and nature. The city has a strong connection to nature and can be seen as a part of it. However, time plays an important role in the poem. Wordsworth mainly focuses on London during the early morning hours and makes clear that the city is only beautiful at this specific time. He worships the “smokeless air” (l. 8), the silence and the sun as they only occur in the morning and then get destroyed by the time people wake up (cf. ll. 1-14).

The poem describes the beauty of London before industrial and governmental activities have begun and start to pollute the air and break the calmness (cf. ll. 1-14). Later in the day, when the processes such as shipping traffic and factory work has begun, the air will not be “smokeless” (l. 8) and “silent” (l. 5) anymore. Therefore it can be seen as an rebellion against the Industrial revolution, which was happening at this time. The Industrial revolution comprises the economic development from the 18th century up until the mid-19th century. (cf. White: 2009, online). Wordsworth demonstrates how idyllic even a metropolis can be, if there is no industrialization. (cf. ll. 1-14)

Wordsworth chooses a simple language and uses common words in the poem. Lines one to eight compose a long sentence, while lines nine to eleven as well as twelve to thirteen encompass shorter sentences (cf. ll. 1-14). The title already contains the word “bridge” which is used as a symbol. A bridge is a human-made object which separates humans from nature, more precisely humans from water, yet also gives people the opportunity to appreciate nature from a different perspective. Also, the bridge represents the connection between humans and nature (cf. ll. 1-14). The poem continues with a hyperbole by claiming that there is nothing more beautiful in the world than the scenery right now: “EARTH has not anything to show more fair;” (l. 1). The same exaggeration can be found later in the poem, when Wordsworth again says that such a beauty has not been discovered before: “Never did sun more beautifully steep / In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill; / Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!” (ll. 9-11). At the same time, the poem contains a simile, which compares the sun to a piece of clothing worn by the city: “This city now doth like a garment wear / The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,” (ll. 4-5). It can also be seen as a metaphor for the different appearances of the city, depending on the time of the day (cf. ll. 4-5). As already mentioned Wordsworth uses numerous personifications in this poem, which create a figurative language.



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Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz
analysis interpretation william wordsworth`s composed upon westminster bridge



Titel: An Analysis and Interpretation of William Wordsworth`s "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge"