Study Guide

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 Transience

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The poem makes clear that London is not entirely responsible for its beauty in the morning. A number of factors, including the unusual absence of any fog and the way the light strikes the ships and buildings, combine to make a perfect scene. Because the speaker knows that such a combination does not happen very often, he thinks that a person would be foolish just to pass by, assuming there will always be other chances to see such beauty. The speaker believes you have to take advantage of such opportunities when you have them.

Questions About Transience

  1. What is it about the early morning that makes the city appear different than at other times?
  2. How do you explain the phrase, "so touching in its majesty" (line 3)? Why is this phrase almost like a paradox?
  3. What is the purpose of the speaker's claim that only a dull person would be able to pass by a scene like this one?
  4. What does the image of the light as a garment suggest about the permanence or impermanence of the vision?

Chew on This

The poem expresses the speaker's desire to stop time, to prevent the city from ever "waking up."

The image of a beautiful garment implies that the city is like a blank canvas that nature adorns, rather than something possessing beauty on its own.

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