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CSEC English B: Sonnet Composed Upon Westminister Bridge by William Wordsworth Analysis

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Sonnet Composed Upon Westminister Bridge, September 3, 1802

William Wordsworth

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!


Summary

In this 14-lined Italian sonnet, the persona is crossing the Westminister bridge and sees a sight that he never has before. The city before him now seems to be more beautiful than he ever had considered it to be before, in the early morning air. He notices the small details all around him, and is awed by the stillness and beauty all around. The sonnet overall is an expression of the persona's admiration of the world around him. The theme is natural beauty, and the tone is reverent and somewhat celebratory of the beauty of nature. The mood could be described as amazement, serenity or wonder.


Analysis

"Earth has not anything to show more fair:"

This is a hyperbole used by the poet to show exactly how incredibly 'fair' the sight before him is. He thinks that this must be the greatest that the world has to offer simply because of how he feels in this moment observing it.

"Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty:"

The persona continues on his admiration of the sight before him by remarking that anyone able to simply walk past the beautiful sight would be "dull... of soul." The persona also indicates how elevated above the ordinary this scene is by using the word 'majesty.' The persona feels genuinely touched by the majesty of the scene.


"This City now doth, like a garment, wear the beauty of the morning; silent, bare,"

Using simile, the city is said to wear the morning's beauty like a garment. This gives the impression of a dress or similar item of clothing settling smoothly over a person's body. Hence, the beauty of the morning settles over the city perfectly, the silence and emptiness of the morning being ascribed to the city signalling the beginning of the new day.


"Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie open unto the fields, and to the sky; all bright and glittering in the smokeless air."

The structures of the city, though manmade and different from the natural elements, seem equally beautiful and sublime when adorned by the glory of the morning air. All is beautiful. Even the air is clear, since factories and vehicles haven,'t begun to spit smoke into the air yet.


"Never did sun more beautifully steep in his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; "

The persona continues with his hyperbole in expressing his adoration, stating that the sun has never looked this beautiful, and makes the magnificence of the valleys and hils more apparent. He uses the word 'steep,' which usually describes how a teabag is left to soak in boiling water when making tea. However, here, it seems to describe the sun at sunrise, and how it seems to be soaking slightly under the horizon like a teabag.


"Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!"

The persona's admiration seems to reach its highest point here, where the wonder of seeing the allure of the world around him is overwhelming. He says (in what could be considered hyperbole) that he has never felt such a deep calm before.


"The river glideth at his own sweet will"

The poet personifies the river to describe how it seems so casual and tranquil in its slow flow. The river, usually disturbed by boats and vessels, is now free to glide at his own leisurely pace.


"Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;"

The persona is overwhelmed and exclaims, likely acknowledging the presence of God in such a serene scene. Even the houses, who he personifies to say they are sleeping, seem at peace- quiet, with the people in them unmoving.


"And all that mighty heart is lying still!"

This line of the poem likely refers to the heart of the city, or the constant throb and stir of people that would occur later in the day is absent- all is still, restful and silent.


Figurative Devices


Personification

Line 12- "The river glideth at his own sweet will"

The poet personifies the river to describe how it seems so casual and tranquil in its slow flow. The river, usually disturbed by boats and vessels, is now free to glide at his own leisurely pace.


Line 13- "Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;"

The poet personifies the houses to say they are sleeping, seeming at peace- quiet, with the people in them unmoving.


Simile

Lines 4-5-""This City now doth, like a garment, wear the beauty of the morning; silent, bare,"

Using simile, the city is said to wear the morning's beauty like a garment. This gives the impression of a dress or similar item of clothing settling smoothly over a person's body. Hence, the beauty of the morning settles over the city perfectly, the silence and emptiness of the morning being ascribed to the city signalling the beginning of the new day.