Upon Westminster Bridge summary by William Wordsworth
Nature in Wordsworth’s Poetry
William Wordsworth was one of the major representatives of the English Romantic Movement in the 19th century. He had a close relation with Nature. He defines poetry as ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility’. He drew his inspiration from a number of natural phenomena like clouds, lakes, hills, birds, flowers, stars etc. Wordsworth presents rustic life and toiling masses in his poetry.
His publication in collaboration with Samual Taylor Coleridge ‘Lyrical Ballads’ (1798) started a new epoch of English literature. This creation is considered as the prelude to the English Romantic Movement. Nature, in its beauty and myriad manifestations is captured by Wordsworth. In the preface to ‘Lyrical Ballads’ Wordsworth wrote that the poet “considers man and Nature as essentially adapted to each other and the mind of man as naturally the mirror of the fairest and the most interesting properties of Nature”. The poem ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ conveys one such interesting property of Nature.
‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ is of lyric poem that displays the excellent splendour, a fine example calmness and beauty in the early morning. Here the poet tells about one interesting property of Nature-its miraculous power to transform momentarily even the man-made structures into crystals of pure natural sight. In the last few lines of the poem the poet has described the cityscape which has turned into a tranquil sleeping land of fairytale with the magic touch of Nature.
Magic touch of Nature
Incident that inspired poetic creation
Wordsworth undertook several landscape tours with his sister Dorothy. Sometimes it was in Scotland or in Italian Alps or in France. From ‘Grasmere Journal’ of Dorothy Wordsworth we come to learn that the brother and sister were travelling to Calais in France on 31st July, 1802.
The journal entry on that date recorded the detail of the scene which found the poetic expression in the poem-“… We left London on Saturday morning at half past 5 or 6 of the 31st July (I have forgot which). 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 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 something like the purity of one of Nature’s own grand spectacles…”
Diction of the poem
The poem is written in a like comma, colon, comma, colon, semicolon, apostrophe, exclamation mark in profusion but only one full stop to the end of the octave and mark the Volta of the sonnet.
called sonnet, first introduced by 14th century Italian 14-line poetic form poet named Fransesco Petrarch. These poems are traditionally divided into two stanzas called an octave (the first 8 lines) and a sestet (the following 6 lines) while the pause between the two stanzas is known as caesura. The turn of thought, indicated by the line or the word is called Volta.
In this poem Wordsworth has followed all the characteristics and the rhyming scheme of Petrarchan sonnet : abba, abba, cdc, dcd. The rhetorical usages like hyperbole, (‘Earth has not anything…..’), anastrophe or inversion (‘Dull would he be…’) simile (‘like a garment….’) personification (‘The river glideth at his own sweet will’) are appropriate. In this poem the poet has used almost all the punctuation marks
SOURCE OF THE POEM
‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ September 3, 1802 was first published in the Collected Poems in two volumes in 1807. The sonnet was originally dated 1803 but this was corrected in later editions and the date of composition given precisely on 31st July, 1802.
SUBSTANCE OF THE POEM
The Nature-poet begins by saying that he has never seen a more beautiful sight than that of Westminster Bridge in the early morning. He goes on to say that only a person with a dull soul (someone who is incapable of appreciating beauty, especially Nature’s beauty) will not marvel at the beauty of the scene. It is still very early. So it is quiet outside. There are no crowds and the bustling activity of the great city.
The landmarks of the city, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, are visible from the bridge. It is a clear morning. There is no fog to obscure the view. The poet compares the sunlight on the buildings to the light that shines in the countryside. He feels that it is as beautiful or even more beautiful than the countryside. He is surprised by the sense of peace in the morning.
He describes the city as sleeping before it awakes to another busy day. The poet seems to be filled with awe as he looks at the city and there is almost a spiritual quality to his admiration. The reader can also sense the great love the poet has for the city of London. The poet, by making the city seem like a living entity, brings to life the image of a ‘sleeping city’.
CENTRAL IDEA OF THE POEM
The poet has witnessed the transformation of the city of London with the magic touch of Nature. He is in awe when he sees the grand sight in which the filthy and noisy city transcends into a crystal of natural beauty. The sunrise in natural surroundings is not so beautiful as it appears in the man-made city with its numerous brick and stone structures.
The poet expresses his wonder and thankfulness to God for this miraculous transformation which Nature alone can do. At that hour of the morning the city is possessed by the invasive Nature and before that magic touch even the mighty heart of city is lulled into a tranquil sleep.
The Title :
The choice of the title seems to be justified as in this poem the poet strives to capture and convey a magic moment when the congested and filthy metropolis of London is transformed into a grand natural sight by the touch of serene morning beauty. Moreover, the word ‘Westminster Bridge’ in the title acts something like a key to ascertain the identity of the city, the river, the tower, the dome etc. described in the poem. In this way, the title is meaningful and appropriate.