Theme: “Composed Upon Westminster

Bridge” recounts an incident of awe & amazement. Wordsworth is clearly captivated by the beauty of this particular London morning. Such magnificent showings do not happen very often, so Wordsworth suggests that a person would be foolish to pass by, assuming that there will be other chances to enjoy stunning moments in time. Thus, the thematic message of the poem is to cherish the wonders of the world because they are ephemeral.

Background: William Wordsworth (April
7th, 1770 – April 23rd, 1850) was an English Romantic poet who is generally accredited for helping launch the Romantic Age in English literature with his 1798 publication Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth debuted as a writer in 1787 when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. He began attending St John's College in the same year, and received his B.A. degree in 1791. In the summer of 1802, Wordsworth traveled with his sister to Calais, France. They stopped in London, where Wordsworth took great inspiration from the appearance of the city as he rode across Westminster Bridge. "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge" captures the proverbial feeling of special moments, and legend goes that Wordsworth apparently wrote the sonnet while sitting on top of his coach. Wordsworth was Britain's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.

Line 1
Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Wordsworth's assertion that the sight of London upon Westminster Bridge is the most beautiful scene on the planet is a hyperbole, as determining beauty is inherently arbitrary and opinionated. Wordsworth gives "Earth" the credit for the beauty of the scene, neglecting all the individuals behind the existence of those monumental structures.

Line 2-3
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty:

Wordsworth justifies his decision to stop his coach to look at the view from Westminster Bridge, claiming that anyone who didn't stop would be "dull...of soul." He suggests that only a person with no appreciation for beauty could possibly pass over Westminster Bridge without stopping to marvel at the sight.

Lines 4-5
This City now doth, like a garment, wear The beauty of the morning:

Through a simile, the morning beauty is compared to a "garment." London is personified, as only people can wear clothing. The image of a beautiful garment suggests that London is like a blank canvas that nature beautifies, rather than something inherently beautiful by itself. Wordsworth's use of personification attributes the beauty of nature to human achievement.

Lines 5-7
silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
 

  

The setting is "silent" because of the early hour. The location of the words "silent" & "bare" offers the possibility that it describes either the morning in Line 4 or the sights in line 6. Because of the semi-colon before them, the morning is probably the most likely recipient of the modifying adjectives, but ambiguity exists nevertheless. The word "bare" can be interpreted as "unadorned," so the diction clearly contrasts with the image of London wearing clothing in line 4. Yet, it is absurd to refer to ships and buildings as being nude, so the figurative language is hyperbole. In general terms, Wordsworth names several sites that are visible from Westminster Bridge. Despite being crowded together within one city, Wordsworth relates a notion of spaciousness by observing that the ships & buildings are "open" to the fields of London & the sky.

Line 8
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Wordsworth sums up the whole scene at the end of the poem's first octet, focusing on the early morning summer sunlight that makes the buildings "bright and glittering." The word "glittering" suggests that the scene is not static but rather dynamic and constantly changing with the shifting light. It is a special day: neither the common London fog nor smoke from chimneys obscures the morning sunlight. In London, much like in San Francisco, it is common for fog to cover the city throughout the morning. Wordsworth was lucky to catch the city on a morning that is completely free of fog, and "smokeless air" in London was certainly something to get excited about Wordsworth's time. Notably, the beauty of the city is praised for things that people usually associate with the countryside instead: pure fresh air, silence, and bright skies.

Lines 9-10
Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill
  

Wordsworth returns to his bold claim from the beginning of the poem: that Earth has never presented a scene quite as beautiful as this one. Specifically, he compares the morning sunlight falling on the city to the sunlight that might cover more remote parts of the countryside, such as a valley, a boulder or mountainous cliff, or a hillside. "First splendor" refers to the morning.

Lines 11-12
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will:     Wordsworth describes how looking at London calms him; his statement is ironic because London is a huge, bustling city. Line 12 personifies the river as a person who likes to take things at his own pace, much like you can’t do anything about the person in front of you who spends ten minutes counting change at the cash register. The images of nature contrast against the expectation of feeling rushed by city life. Wordsworth clearly demonstrates that he is surprised, perhaps harboring the preconceived notion that it was impossible for a bustling city to even remotely evoke any sense of calmness. Lines 9 & 11 share parallel structure, and Wordsworth employs anaphora in claiming that the effect of the morning light on London creates a beauty that has "never" been experienced before. As in the first line, all of these claims are blatant hyperboles.

Lines 13-14 Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!
   

Wordsworth cries out to God as if he has just recognized something life-changing, and the exclamation to God escalates his tone of his poetic voice to a higher register. The phrase "the very houses" means "even the houses." The way in which the scene unfolds against Wordsworth’s expectations suggests awestruck wonder. Wordsworth personifies the houses as asleep; in reality, the people inside the houses are the ones sound asleep, as would be expected at the early hour. The "heart" refers to London's reputation as a cosmopolitan city; Wordsworth characterizes it as "lying still" before the city awakens for a new day. For Wordsworth, a large part of the city's charm early in the morning is the fact that a huge metropolis – a hub of energy and activity – lies completely still. The last two lines signify a shift in tone from appreciation to amazement.