Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth

I love this poem. It is a Petrarchan sonnet and absolutely awe-inspiring. If you have never been to London, you’re stuck with what I have: book and screen versions. I watched a programme on T.V. once about the River Thames and I was amazed at the visuals of the city.

London lies between the south and east coasts. To the east, there is nothing between London and the sea where the mouth of the River Thames is. A humid and warm Gulf Stream can easily push back the inland air and keep it hanging over the city. When this vapour mixes with the air pollution (smoke) of London, the city becomes dark with fog. This dirty air can remain for days until fresh winds and milder temperatures dissipate the urban pall.

The London Fog is part of London as much as the River Thames is. On the rare occasions when London is without fog, the city’s splendour can be seen from a higher point like Westminster  Bridge . And that’s what this poem is about: standing on Westminster  Bridge  early in the morning on one of those truly rare occasions when a fresh breeze has cleared the air and the city is visible. Thus, the theme of the poem is the beauty of a tranquil morning.

The poet goes out for an early morning walk. While on the  bridge  he sees the sun gilding London as the peaceful city sleeps. The poet starts the poem with hyperbole saying that London is the most beautiful of creation. Through this figure of speech Wordsworth shows his love for London and his delight at experiencing the tranquility. According to him, only an insensitive person could ignore the beautiful scene before him. The poet uses inversion in the second line to emphasize his contempt for such ingratitude. The city, in effect, is dressed in majesty.

The poet looks out over the city and sees the sun shining on the ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples. These objects describe a modern city. Each signify something: ships: travelling and trade; towers: global power; domes: freedom or universal love; theatres: entertainment; and temples: religion. The poet looks out to the farms and fields on the outskirts of the city. The fog gives the city an impression of being self-enclosed, but on this clear morning, the poet realizes that the city lies open and joins harmoniously with nature. Everything he sees in and about this modern city glitters in the sun. The sun in all its brightness shows every detail of nature (something that is never part of a city description): valleys, rocks, hills. He repeats the word “never” to emphasize his feelings. He is in awe of the tranquility. He can see the powerful river gliding along, an integral part of the city, yet free.

The poet uses apostrophe – to address God – as he sees the quiet over the metropolis. This emphasizes disbelief. Such a powerful city and yet it is so quiet that even the houses seem to be asleep. Wordsworth ends the poem with a beautiful metaphor. He says the mighty heart of the city is lying still. The mighty heart is the sleeping population of the mighty metropolis.

One of the many reasons why I like this poem is simply because I have always wanted to visit London. I have a passion for English, English literature and art. I can see myself standing on Westminster  Bridge  and enjoying this beautiful picture that Wordsworth has painted with words. I hope to be able to do this … one day.