Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sonnet: Composed Upon Westminster Bridge by Wordsworth

Wordsworth said, late in life, that Composed Upon Westminster Bridge was ‘written on the roof of a coach, on my way to France’. This statement does not agree with the date ‘September 3, 1802’. We know from Dorothy’s Journal that they crossed Westminster Bridge on their way to France in the early morning of July 31. But they were back in London from August 31 to September 22. Perhaps this sonnet was cast in its final form on September 3.

Wordsworth is of the view in this sonnet that the sight of London in the light of the morning sun excels any other beautiful scene of the earth. He who remains untouched by such a grand and impressive sight is dead to all senses of beauty. Now the city is clothed in the bright light of the morning as with a garment. Ships, towers, domes, play-houses and churches can now be seen spreading into the horizon and becoming one with the surrounding fields and the sky above. The air is free from smoke and all objects of the city look bright and shining.
The rays of the rising sun never fell so beautifully on the valleys, rocks, or hills as they fell on London that day. The poet has not experienced such a wonderful quietness in the atmosphere at any other time. The Thames is moving freely without being disturbed by boats and ships. It appears to the poet that even the houses are asleep. He feels that the mighty heart of London has stopped beating and it is lying calm and quiet.

Critical Appreciation
As a poet of Nature, Wordsworth was allergic towards the commercial life of London. The confusion of London taught him to recognize the fragments of rustic things and aspects of eternal things found amidst the rush and roar.
In Composed Upon Westminster Bridge we find Wordsworth as a poet who considers London as a part of the country. Here nature has reasserted her dominion over the works of all the multitude of men; and in the early clear­ness the poet beholds the great City—’not as full of noise and dust and confusion, but as something silent, grand and everlasting’.
In this poem we find Wordsworth as a poet of solitude also. For him all solitude and all solitary things had an extraordinary fascination. The sonnet breathes the calm depth, the pervading majesty of silence that descends on Nature’s dawn. Nowhere has the poet ever experienced so intensely the sensation of utter solitude as at the sight of the vast city lying in the bright sunlight. As he says:
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!
The sight of London he held from Westminster Bridge as described in the sonnet finely illustrates his theory of Imagination. As Rader puts it, “here is no aggregate built up stepwise by the association of simple constituents, nor a serial order either logical or causal. Rather there is au intense emotional synthesis achieved in a single moment of intuition—the vision of a great city wrapped in a calm so deep that its mighty heart is almost suspended.”
Dorothy’s description of the scene is the best comment on the sonnet: “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 over-hung by the cloud of smoke and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light, that there was even something like the purity of one of nature’s own grand spectacles.”
This sonnet is a fine example of Wordsworth’s simple and natural poetic diction. In it a chaste diction and a simplicity of utterance are wedded to the beauty of the images. Here the images of the sun and the river are so fresh that they appear to be the report of something actually seen.
Composed Upon’ Westminster Bridge remains one of the most delightful sonnets of Wordsworth. We turn to this sonnet again and again because it shows a return to Wordsworth’s early freshness of response to landscape.

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