Study Guide

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 Quotes

By William Wordsworth

  • Awe and Amazement

    Earth has not anything to show more fair: (line 1)

    The use of exaggeration (hyperbole) give the impression of childlike wonder, of the world made fresh and new again. This is not a philosophical poem. It's a poem about a person's emotions "in the moment."

    A sight so touching in its majesty: (line 3)

    The speaker can only describe the beauty of the city using paradoxes like this one. Imagine telling a king that he's adorable, pinching his cheeks, and then bowing before him, and you'll get an idea of how the phrase "touching in its majesty" works.

    All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. (line 8)

    The light on the buildings "glitters" like a precious metal. The speaker might be describing the play of the sun on some of the windows.

    Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! (line 11)

    It's rare to feel completely at ease in a large city, so the speaker's statement is unexpected. The unusual silence of the city in the morning contributes to this feeling.

    Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; (line 13)

    The phrase "the very houses" means something like, "even the houses." The way in which the vision plays against his expectations is important in this poem. The exclamation to God brings the tone to a higher emotional register.

  • Transience

    Dull would he be of soul who could pass by (line 2)

    The speaker's message is that you have to take the good things as they come, because they won't last for long. The dull person can't appreciate the transient nature of beauty.

    This City now doth, like a garment, wear
    The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, (lines 4-5)

    Garments are things you can put on and take off, and even throw away when they get old and ratty, or if you accidentally throw your whites in with your colors (doh!). They are transient by definition. At this moment, the city happens to be wearing a particularly stunning garment.

    the smokeless air. (line 8)

    There's a reason chimney sweepers appear so often in 19th century depictions of London: it was a smoky city. Not to mention the frequent fogs that appear on a chilly London morning. In other words, "smokeless air" was something to get excited about for a Londoner in Wordsworth's time.

    In his first splendour (line 10)

    The poem is about making the old seem new again. Even the sun is remade every morning. Each day is a new and transient world.

    And all that mighty heart is lying still! (line 14)

    This moment will not last long. The speaker catches London at a time after the sun has risen but before most people have awoken for work or play.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Earth has not anything to show more fair: (line 1)

    Ah, so the speaker gives "earth" all the credit for the beauty of the scene. What about all the people who designed and built those towers and domes? Poor Christopher Wren. (Jeopardy points: Christopher Wren designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London).

    like a garment, wear
    The beauty of the morning; (lines 4-5)

    Nature brings out the beauty in the landmarks of London. Interestingly, though, the effects of the light are compared to clothing, a product of human culture. It is hard to tell nature and culture apart.

    Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
    All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. (line 7-8)

    These images give London an almost heavenly appearance, and certainly make the city seem less cramped and crowded. Nature is the vast frame that surrounds the scene on all sides.

    In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; (line 10)

    Wordsworth is famous for his poems that praise natural wilderness and pastoral life, such as "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" (also on Shmoop). To hear him speak about his beloved valleys and hills in anything less than glowing terms is odd, to say the least.

    The river glideth at his own sweet will: (line 12)

    Even the images of nature play against the expectation of feeling rushed and harried by the city. The river does not allow itself to be rushed. It flows at a slow and even pace. Also, the elements of nature are like people that populate the empty-feeling city.

  • Contrasting Regions: City and Countryside

    Earth has not anything to show more fair: (line 1)

    Hear that, Lake District? Wordsworth totally dissed you behind your back. (Lost? See "In a Nutshell.")

    This City now doth, like a garment, wear (line 4)

    Rather than contrasting two regions, you could see the poem as integrating two regions – the natural and the man-made. The city "wears" the pure sunlight like a shirt or jacket.

    the smokeless air. (line 8)

    The beauty of the city is praised for things that people usually associate with the countryside instead: pure fresh air, silence, and bright skies.

    Never did sun more beautifully steep
    In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; (line 9-10)

    These lines are the most explicit contrast between the city and the countryside. It's hard to tell if Wordsworth actually means to say that the London sunlight is more beautiful, or whether he wants to use the beauty of the countryside, which he takes for granted, as a way to express the unique qualities of the morning.

    Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! (line 11)

    The words "not" and "never" express the singular beauty of the city throughout the poem. The speaker seems taken by surprise, as if he never would have thought that London could produce a sense of calm.