Monday 3 September 2018

Wordsworth on the Bridge

On this day in 1802, William Wordsworth wrote what was to become one of his most anthologised and memorised poems. Or rather, 'September 3, 1802' was the date he added to the title of his sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge, published in Wordsworth's Poems, in Two Volumes in 1807. The actual date of composition seems to have been the 31st of July, when, as Dorothy Wordsworth writes in her journal, 'we left London [en route to France] at half past five or six ... It was a beautiful morning. The City, St Pauls, with the River & 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 & they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly with such a pure light that there was even something like the purity of one of nature's own grand Spectacles.'
  It's a fine poem that proceeds smoothly and musically, the tight interlocking structure of the Petrarchan sonnet curbing Wordsworth's bloviating tendencies (though there's a touch of bathos in the penultimate line). In the early morning sun the City lies in a state of suspended animation, for this short interval no longer a city but a beautiful and strange phenomenon to which the poet can respond as if it is 'one of nature's own grand Spectacles'....

Earth has not anything to show more fair: 
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by 
A sight so touching in its majesty: 
This City now doth, like a garment, wear 
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, 
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie 
Open unto the fields, and to the sky; 
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. 
Never did sun more beautifully steep 
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; 
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! 
The river glideth at his own sweet will: 
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; 
And all that mighty heart is lying still! 

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