William Wordsworth – Upon Westminster Bridge – Poetry Lecture and Analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker


That’s the full title of the poem
we normally know as ‘Westminster Bridge’. Westminster Bridge is
the bridge in London, it’s the one with the House of Parliament
just to the side of it, and in this poem, Wordsworth is
standing on Westminster Bridge, gazing presumably in
the direction of St. Paul’s, and the poem is exactly
what the title suggests it is:⁄ Lines written on Westminster Bridge,
September 3, 1802 The poem is usually thought of as
something of a love poem to London, and it’s often contrasted with
William Blake’s earlier, very famous poem, ‘London’. This can be a very simplistic way
of reading Wordsworth’s ‘Westminster Bridge’. Wordsworth himself was
one of the Romantic poets. He is of the first generation of
Romantic poets of William Blake, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
his good friend, the other Romantic poets being
Byron, and Shelley, and John Keats. These guys, somewhat loosely
form a canon we call, ‘the Romantic poets’. And like the Romantic poets,
he was very interested in transcendent moments, and particularly interested in nature.
He’s one of England’s most famous nature poets. Most of his poetry is written about
the Lake District areas of England. But in this poem here, he addresses London,
and he addresses the city of London. So, unusual amongst Wordsworth’s work,
this is a poem addressed to a city. What he has to say about the city is
what we will reveal in the close analysis
we will do of this poem. Now, after I have done that analysis,
I’ll look at the poem through one of the statements that Wordsworth is
famous for making about the construction of poetry. He gives us what is often deemed
to be a definition of poetry. Wordsworth tells us,
‘poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,’ ‘and it takes its form
recollected in tranquillity’. We’ll look at that statement later to see
how it relates to Westminster Bridge. So, the first read through of
William Wordsworth’s ‘Westminster Bridge’. 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! Let’s do the line-by-line analysis. Earth has not anything to show more fair: There’s not really anything there
that should confuse us. ‘Fair’ just means beautiful. Earth has not anything to show more fair: means, there is nothing more beautiful
on the earth than this. ‘Fair’ does not mean fair as in light-dark fair,
it doesn’t mean fair as in justice-injustice fair, this is ‘fair’, as in beautiful. 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: Similarly, I don’t really see
any problems in this line for us. Wordsworth is saying that whoever could
walk past this sight that he is looking at, this sight that he describes as
‘so touching in its majesty’; anyone who could walk past that
without commenting on it, without noticing it; anyone who could just pass by
without seeing it would be dull of soul. ‘Dull of soul’ –
boring is an easy way to explain it. To be ‘dull of soul’ perhaps could mean
you have no poetic impetus. It would mean you’re not the sort of person
who would recognize beauty when they see it, but basically, it means boring. So, the opening lines of the poem then
are quite simple for us. ‘This is one of the most beautiful sights
I have ever seen, and anyone who could pass by it
without noticing it would be really boring.’ But, what is he looking at? And Wordsworth tells us. This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, So, he’s looking at
the city of London. He’s looking at the city of London, which he sees as
wearing the beauty of the morning. So we know that it is morning,
and mornings are beautiful, and the city has morning on,
as if it is, imagine it as a cloak. The city is wearing
the beauty of the morning. It is silent and bare. Now, we may note here,
how can the city be bare and be wearing a garment
at the same time? And, having raised that,
I think the easiest way to address it and to deal with it is to just say,
‘yeah, that is a bad line.’ ‘It has been commented on before,
and Wordsworth himself’ ‘towards the end of his life
was considering changing that line.’ The city cannot wear the morning
or the beauty of the morning like a garment and be bare
at the same time. I think what Wordsworth gets out of
using the word ‘bare’ there is saying that the city is naked,
virginal almost, untouched, clean. If you were to imagine
a bare sheet of paper even, perhaps, it’s that sort of image that he’s looking for.
Untouched. 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. So Wordsworth, he tells us what he sees
as he looks over London. He gives us a list.
He says he sees, ‘ships, towers, domes,
theatres, and temples’. Yeah, these are the sort of things
we would see in London. Normal, man-made things. This is written of course in 1802
and the city is growing at this point. And these are the sort of things
we find in cities. Wordsworth does not see them
as in any way ugly, he sees them as, Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. This does seem very beautiful. London as this time, we must assume,
there are still fields and open sky there that can be seen
from Westminster bridge. All of the things Wordsworth mentions here
are the offshoots of city commerce as well. And they’re all man-made. And Wordsworth certainly seems like
he’s enjoying what he’s looking at. Well, he is, for he tells us
at the start of the third stanza, Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; ‘Steep’ means to go up. So, Wordsworth is saying,
‘the sun has never risen over ‘a valley, a rock, or a hill
in quite as beautifully’ ‘as it is rising over
what he is looking at at the moment. So, ‘valley, rock, and hill’ are there
to symbolize the country. So basically, what is saying is,
‘the sunrise over the country’ ‘has never been more beautiful than this sunrise
I am looking at now, over the city of London’. In fact, he concludes this with,
‘never saw I, never felt I a calm so deep.’ In fact he starts with,
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! He’s never seen anything that looks
this tranquil, serene, this beautiful. He’s never felt this calm. The river glideth at his own sweet will: The river, which is of course the Thames,
is ‘gliding at his own sweet will’. The Thames was often called ‘old father Thames’,
so giving the Thames a gender here, ‘gliding at his own sweet will’,
you can understand where that comes from. And I can’t help thinking that
Wordsworth is alluding here to Blake’s poem, ‘London’,
which starts off, ‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow’ ‘Chartered’ being owned, worked. In Blake’s poem, it’s as if everywhere in London
has become so commercialized that the river itself
has actually been chartered. All of it is doing something for the
commercial engine that London is. But not to Wordsworth.
When he says, The river glideth at his own sweet will, it’s as if the river is not chartered,
it’s owned by itself. The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And ‘dear God’ here is like an expostulation of
‘wow, whew, wow the very houses seem asleep.’ The whole scene that he’s looking on
as the sun rises over the city of London is so tranquil. It seems as if
the very houses in London are asleep, And all that mighty heart is lying still! Well, ‘the mighty heart’ is obviously
the mighty, commercial, beating heart of the city of London. [Beating] London, up and vibrantly,
dynamically working, as cities do, Wordsworth says, ‘dear God it seems the very houses
are asleep, and all that mighty heart is lying still’. Well, he seems quite happy. There’s no denying that
he likes what he sees. But is this a poem which is
laudatory to the city of London? Is this a poem that says,
‘what a great place the city of London is’? Let’s look at that last line a bit closer. Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still! First thing, when does a heart,
mighty or otherwise, lie still? There’s only one time that a heart lies still,
and that’s when you’re dead. When you’re dead, your heart stops beating,
your heart lies still. So one could paraphrase that last line,
it’s as if, Wordsworth is saying, ‘London looks dead’. Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; ‘And all that mighty heart, that dynamic, pulsating heart
that keeps London alive, is lying still!’ I might even add to that last line, that
And all that mighty heart is lying still! Lying could also have the connotation if-
well, it also means not telling the truth. ‘The mighty heart of London
is not telling the truth.’ Because there’s something in that wordage
which sums up what is going on in this poem. The poem at first light
appears to be championing London. But, this is London seen at first light. This is London seen at, well,
when would the sun rise in London at September? On September the third.
Let’s say 6 o’clock in the morning. This is a poem written to London
at 6 o’clock in the morning. What Wordsworth is looking at is London,
but it is London at 6 o’clock in the morning. Now, if you were to write a poem which says
what a wonderful place the city of London is, don’t write it about London
at 6 o’clock in the morning. Write it about London at any other time,
but not at 6 o’clock in the morning whereby the impression that you’re getting
of London is completely distorted. And all that mighty heart is lying still! What Wordsworth is saying there is,
‘what I am looking at here is not the real London.’ ‘This is a London that is calm, peaceful,
and tranquil, and basically, asleep.’ ‘And even dead. And I like it like that,’
is what Wordsworth is saying. Were that final line the only example of this,
I could be seen to be misinterpreting the poem. But it isn’t. Let’s look at that line I mentioned earlier
where Wordsworth says, This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, The city of London is wearing
the beauty of the morning like a garment, and pretty soon,
the garment is going to come off. And when the garment comes off,
the city of London is going to reveal itself in all its majestic, dynamic,
mighty, beating heart glory. Which Wordsworth doesn’t seem to like. What Wordsworth sees is the
houses which are all bright and glittering in the smokeless air. This is beautiful,
none of us are going to deny this. They are bright and glittering presumably because
it’s still dark, the sun hasn’t risen yet and they’re being lit by candles. They’re bright and glittering
in the smokeless air. The reality of London during the rest of the day
when the smoke has started is that it is not smokeless. The river does not glide
at its own sweet will. It is basically the busiest river in the world,
or was the busiest river in the world then. So rather than this being a poem to
the city of London about how beautiful the city of London is,
which is how it is often put across, this is more a poem about
how beautiful the morning is. How beautiful the sunrise is. All of the attributes that Wordsworth
champions in this poem about London, everything he says pleasant
about what he sees, or everything that he recounts pleasantly
about what he sees are attributes of the morning,
not attributes of the city. One could even argue that this poem
is as much a poem about the beauty of the morning sunrise,
as opposed to a poem about the beauty of the city. If one were to write a poem about the city,
you’d struggle to say, ‘the city is a wonderful place’
without mentioning one of the main attributes of the city proper,
which is people. The fact that there are no people in this poem
is a conspicuous omission. So, what I submit to you here
is that this is not a poem saying what a wonderful place London is. In fact, the way I imagine
this poem being constructed is Wordsworth is walking along Westminster Bridge
at 6 o’clock in the morning, and he stops and
he looks over London and he says, ‘wow, that is really beautiful.
Absolutely stunningly beautiful place.’ ‘I might even try to
write a poem about that.’ And he thinks,
‘I better actually do it pretty quick,’ ‘because that is beautiful in the morning,
but in a minute,’ ‘the beauty of the morning
which is being worn like a garment’ ‘by London at the moment
is going to come off, it’s going to look horrible.’ ‘That river is going to be
owned and chartered by the people there,’ ‘the place is going to be smoke-filled
and filled with people’ ‘and it’s going to be really loud.
All those nice quiet sleepy houses’ ‘are going to be thump, thump, thumping away,
and everybody’s going to be’ ‘shouting and screaming and trying to make money.
God I can’t stand this city.’ ‘But, while it’s still not sunrise yet,
I must admit even this is really beautiful.’ And from that, he writes his poem. I sound very flippant
when I relate it to you like that but, that’s not far removed from
what probably happened. What I want to address here,
and then I’ll relate to this poem, is Wordsworth’s definition of poetry. Wordsworth defines poetry as, ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings:
‘it takes its form recollected in tranquillity’. Ok, that sounds great,
until you look at it a bit closer, and then you realize
it’s not even a definition of poetry at all. Let me explain why it’s not. ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions’. Ok, so when we get or
when we see a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions,
that’s poetry. So let me use a comical example,
when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear off, that was poetry, was it? That looked like a
‘fairly spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions’ to me. He didn’t look like he was planning to do it,
and he looked pretty angry. That looked like a powerful emotion. I don’t think we’re going to call
Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ear off, a poem. Of course, Wordsworth doesn’t really mean
‘poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions’. He means,
‘poetry is the spontaneous overflow of positive emotions’. And you think,
‘ok, fair enough’. Poetry is- well, is it? Don’t you actually have to say something
or write it down for it to be poetry? I mean I know in a sort of
metaphorical way you can say, ‘the way the woman walked
was a poem in itself’. But let’s be rather boring about this bit
and say that you do actually have to write it down, or say it,
or at least think it for it to be a poem. Had Mike Tyson after biting
Evander Holyfield’s ear off – and if you haven’t seen this,
watch it on Google, it is hilarious – after doing this, Mike Tyson goes home and,
in tranquillity, he forms some thoughts about it, he thinks about it,
is that a poem? If Mike Tyson writes down what he thought
about the experience, would that be a poem? Well, I don’t know Mike Tyson’s
poetic capabilities but maybe it would. I would like to believe that
the thing that we call a poem would be written by someone with a certain degree
of verbal dexterity and poetic acumen, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be done
by somebody who doesn’t have those things. But I don’t think it’s too much for us to ask that
the thing which we call a poem is written down or
spoken by someone. But my first problem with
Wordsworth’s statement here. ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions’. No, it’s not. Poetry is generated by the
spontaneous overflow of what I call positive, life-enhancing emotions,
which I then go away and in tranquillity think about
and then write down. But even that’s not completely true,
because not all poetry is generated in that way. The poetry Wordsworth writes and likes
and champions is written in that way, but not all of it. So, if I was to change Wordsworth’s statement
into one that I think makes perfect sense, I would have to amend it and-
I’m not doing this facetiously, incidentally, because the statement is very well known,
and you see what he’s talking about enacted in this poem. But the statement which the world knows
doesn’t really make a lot of sense. But if you amend it,
it does. So you amend Wordsworth’s
original statement of, ‘poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,
and it takes its form recollected in tranquillity’, you amend it to,
‘the type of poetry I like and write’ ‘is generated by the spontaneous overflow
of powerful, positive, life-affirming feelings,’ ‘which I then go away and
recollect in tranquillity and form a poem from’ ‘due to my intellectual acumen
and poetic dexterity.’ But that statement that I’ve given you
does make perfect sense about the way Wordsworth
seems to construct his poetry. We can imagine it
happening with this poem. The spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion
that he gets is looking at London first thing in the morning,
walking along the bridge, stopping because he’s not dull of soul
and he will not pass by a sight so touching in majesty. He looks over the sunrise,
‘wow, that is really beautiful’, and presumably after seeing it,
he goes away and, in tranquillity, he recollects what he’s just seen- I mean, he could sit down 10 minutes later
and recollect what he saw 10 minutes before, or he could go away for a year and then
recollect what he’s just seen and get it down. But as I say, I don’t think it’s beyond
the talents of someone like William Wordsworth to sit down five minutes later
and write this poem. He sees the beautiful sunrise,
he has the spontaneous moment of overwhelming feeling about it, and in tranquillity,
he writes, Earth has not anything to show more fair: So let me just mention something
on the form of the poem because it is a classic Sonnet
in the Petrarchan form. It has the ABBA ABBA opening four-rhymes
of every Petrarchan sonnet, and after that it goes CD CD CD. Now, it being a Sonnet,
Petrarchan or otherwise, these are traditionally the way
love poems are written, so I suppose we could claim here
that this is a love poem to the city of London in the morning,
or just the morning, in the same way that for example,
Rupert Brookes’ ‘The Soldier’ is a love poem to England. That’s worth commenting on,
but I think one of the more relevant attributes of this poem being a sonnet
is the actual ABBA ABBA rhyme scheme that Wordsworth imposes on himself. Means that he has to rhyme words with
‘fair’, ‘wear’, and ‘air’. I’m mentioning this only to give
Wordsworth a get-out clause for that, This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, In using ‘bare’ he has to
rhyme the word with ‘fair’, ‘wear’, and ‘air’, so, presumably he put a word in that rhymed
and then worked backwards from it. So, it is a Petrarchan sonnet.
It is, in some ways a love poem to the morning,
or the city of London in the morning, but I wouldn’t attempt to get too much
out of the relevance of this as a sonnet. Ok. I’ll read the poem through
for you one more time. 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! Thank you. That was the Mycroft Online Lecture
on William Wordsworth’s ‘Composed on a Westminster Bridge,
September 3, 1802. I am Dr. Andrew Barker. Thank you.

36 thoughts on “William Wordsworth – Upon Westminster Bridge – Poetry Lecture and Analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker

  1. This really helped me understand the historical context of the poem. I was very much stuck on my essay till a friend linked me this! Went from hating this poem to finding it accessible and interesting.

  2. I liked how you turned the poem around to show that it was about nature and the morning, rather than London. That was good, but I'm going to take issue with several points here: I'd have been inclined to think of the garment as a transparent silk nightie rather than a "cloak." Also, I disagree with your definition of "steep" as a verb meaning to "go up". The correct definition is "surround or fill with a quality or influence." This doesn't really change the meaning of the poem & your analysis, except where you claim there were candles burning & it was still dark out, which I think is wrong. The sun has risen, or partly risen, and the brightness and glittering comes from those early rays of light that the sun has "steeped" the city in. Finally, I don't think your discussion of Wordsworth's definition of poetry is working well here or really adding much, if anything, to the analysis of the poem. You're actually quoting Wordsworth incorrectly: "poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling" is correct – you keep saying "emotion" and I think there's a subtle but important difference. Your decision to interpret 'powerful' as 'positive' doesn't make sense to me. When Wordsworth makes this statement, I tend to wonder if by "poetry" he means not the end product/physical artefact of a written poem, but rather some elusive abstract concept (Ah! poetry!) which means Mike Tyson biting Evan Hollander's ear is "poetry" after all.  This is an endlessly debatable topic and I don't want to type an essay in a youtube comments box so I'll sign off here. 

  3. Re TheDisexists. Grateful as always for your comments. Brilliant as always. I’ll reply as best I can.

    1 I’m going to take issue with several points here: I'd have been inclined to think of the garment as a transparent silk nightie rather than a "cloak." 

    Firstly, thank you for your interest. I have a bit of time so I’ll reply as best I can. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine a ‘transparent’ garment in “the city doth now like a garment wear the beauty of the morning.” Feel free to of course, but why would the poet use a simile here? What work is like a garment doing? Why say ‘wears the beauty of the morning like a garment?’ Why not say, The city is beautiful? We don’t know what kind of garment it would be, it could be a beautiful garment or an ugly one, as some clothes look good and some look bad, but no matter what the garment is the point here is that a garment can be removed. The silent beauty of the morning is something that will “like a garment” come off, and reveal the reality beneath. 

    2 Also, I disagree with your definition of "steep" as a verb meaning to "go up". The correct definition is "surround or fill with a quality or influence." 
    Well that’s certainly a definition of steep as in “Wordsworth was steeped in the romantic poetic tradition”, but another definition is “rising or falling very sharply.” In a poem about a sunrise the second would certainly be the more obvious use of the word, though perhaps your definition here of steeped as influenced gives more texture to the verse, gives us more to chew on. . . In fact I’d say it does. And as you say this doesn’t change the meaning of the poem. I do like ‘steeped’ as ‘influenced’ here. Steeped as influenced? Well worth considering as an extra meaning.

    As to the ‘glittering’ being cause by the first rays of sunlight or caused by candles? Once again I think we can have it both ways without our appreciation of the scene being changed at all. In defense of ‘glittering’ referring to candles in the near dark of dawn I would say that the sunrise itself would not cause the city to glitter in the same way as candles lit in the predawn would make the coty appear to glitter, but this is a small point. 

    3 Finally, I don't think your discussion of Wordsworth's definition of poetry is working well here or really adding much, if anything, to the analysis of the poem.
    I’d have to respectfully disagree there. Westminster Bridge is a clear and easy example of what Wordsworth is talking about in his definition. (I would concede though that the poem is used to illustrate the definition more than the definition used to illuminate the poem.)

    I’ll add an extended discussion of Wordsworth’s “Poetry is  . . .” quote in the attached lecture notes, but believe that part of the confusion here is that poetry has come to mean two things. One is, as you say, the actual artifact of a written, or spoken, poem and the other is the, once again as you say, ‘Ah! Poetry, elusive abstract concept.’ And people certainly do use the word poetry to mean that second thing. With this second definition the poem on the sunrise is called a piece of poetry, but so is the sunrise itself, so is great pass in football, so is the design of a keyboard, so is anything that anyone claims to be poetry because the quality that makes something poetry is elusive and abstract so who can say the person calling it poetry is wrong? Even a murder can be called poetry, or as you say someone biting someone’s ear off incensed with an overflowing of powerful feeling during a boxing match, though for me that’s an extremely debatable example. I don’t see a difference between emotion and feeling here. The problem here is that if everything is poetry, to someone, then nothing is poetry. The word poetry comes to have no useful meaning for us beyond, ‘Something someone says they like, or that caused them to feel deeply.’ The slight inconvenience here is that the word formed thing and the elusive abstract concept thing are often conflated when definitions of poetry are given. Poetry clearly means two different things. A limerick which is certainly poetry, doesn’t cause us, or at least me, to feel very deeply.

    The point here is whether or not Wordsworth is talking about the first or the second in “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Certainly the second part, ‘takes its origins from . . . ‘ would to me suggest he’s talking about the composition of the words on the page thing, even if in the first part he’s talking about the ‘Ah Poetry!’ thing, in the second part he’s talking about getting those words down.
    The point I make here is that he is talking, quite accurately I think, about the type of poetry he likes to get down and what inspires it. This is useful, or at least interesting, for us in a discussion of his work but it’s worth pointing out that as a blanket definition of poetry it is, to say the least, not universally applicable.

    4 Your decision to interpret 'powerful' as 'positive' doesn't make sense to me. 

    I don’t interpret powerful as positive, I say Wordsworth would seem not to consider negative emotions to fall within his definition of poetry. One could argue here of course, “How would I know that?” 

    I hope all that is useful.

    Incidentally, I have a theory, unsubstantiated as yet, that the reason for the existence of the ‘Ah Poetry, elusive abstract concept’ thing being given the same word as the ‘written or spoken collection of words’ thing is down to poets like Wordsworth being very concerned with the ‘Ah Poetry elusive abstract concept’ thing in their written or spoken works. The works of the Romantics were very popular and their definitions and concerns have carried on in our symbolic everyday definition of poetry. When someone says, ‘That baby is poetry’ or in football ‘that pass was poetry’ I tend to think, whose poetry are you thinking about? Larkin’s? Wilfred Owen’s? Spike Milligan’s? Those using the word poetry here are thinking of the ‘elusive abstract concept’ poetry of the Romantics, of Wordsworth, the influence of who is still with us in the way we use the word ‘poetry’ figuratively today. And since usage is the final arbiter of language who is to say those using the word that way are wrong to do so? That IS what the word means now. It is also not a necessary component of all the written down or spoken aloud stuff that we also call poetry. We can allow though that, for many of us, it is a desirable component.

  4. "The city is wearing the beauty of the morning" but bare of pedestrians as it is silent,maybe..
    M.p.o.v. nice lecture ,enjoying and listening from URuguay.

  5. Good Day! Dr Barker, i like your style and the language explanation, especially the slow intonation and clarity of your speech, for the non-native speakers, which makes me understand each and every one of your lecture. i have listened to all your lectures and i am a fan of yours and look forward for lectures on many more topics from you which are yet to be covered by you, the lecture of philip larkin and seamus heaney are really very good!.., …comparitively you are excellent Dr.Barker, thank you!

  6. For me it is a perfect laudatory to the city of London, especially sun rise in the city of London. If it was just a love poem to the morning, I'm not so sure why he had to use Westminster Bridge as the title. Throughout the poem, the poet really vividly depicts the sun rise in city of London. If it was a love poem to the morning, I think he would more focus on the instant moment of sun rising and it doesn't have to be London. The poet says that nothing on earth can be more beautiful than this that he's watching and describes the beauty of the city. I won't deny that he likes the city in the morning but that doesn't necessarily mean he likes the morning, not the city itself. He is focusing and describing how the city of London is amazing in the morning. As the sun rises, everything glitters like the city is wearing the beautiful garment and because it's in the early morning everything seems asleep, silent and bare (it's right before the moment when the city is wearing the beauty of the morning). Sun rises everywhere and it's all the same sun but he is specifically using and portraying the features and things in the city of London; ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples, river, valley, rock and hill in London.
    And I have a question about William Wordsworth's definition of poetry that "poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." . Can we interpret his words here as 'poetry is a recollected tranquil form of spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings'? You mentioned in the lecture that the powerful feelings perhaps will be positive feeling but I don't think it has to be positive. Poetry doesn't always have to be beautiful but it can also be a written form of crazy, dirty, or disgusting feelings, does it?

  7. The way I see this poem is that it was about the love of London's morning. I do not think that he dislked or even hated London when she's busy. He just like the morning in London where it was calm and beautiful and the huge contrast of emptiness in the morning. Because why would he want to change that line "bare" before his death? I think he consided that it was a fact that London had already wore that garment cloak. It cannot be bare so he would want to change that to avoid misrepresentation. He just like the morning in London. So I think that the fact that people view this as a love poem to the city still stands.

    I have a question about what you have said in the lecture that powerfull emotions had to be positive. can it ot be? I do not think all powerful emotions have to be positive. Most of the time, the sadness struck people more when it comes to poem.

    Then what is the truth definiton of poem? I think most people has different opinions but what is the true meaning of it?

  8. I agree with you in saying that the poem is not about Wordsworth’s love of London’s city scene in general, but rather his love of it the one time when he saw it at a specific place – upon Westminster Bridge – on a specific date – September 3rd 1802 – and at a specific time – in the morning. I think the specification of date and place in the title has made the poem very diary-like, which perhaps suggests that the ‘fair’ sight of London is an unusual encounter that deserves recording down. Also, Wordsworth’s emphasis – in both the octave and the sestet – on the time such ‘fair’ sight is seen – in the morning – (‘the beauty of the morning’ / ‘his first splendour’) hints that the sight is fleeting, transient; and his use of garment as a metaphor for the morning light, coupled with the word he uses in the last line of the poem – ‘lying’ – as you suggest, may as well be an indication of such view to be an illusion, a mirage if you like, that is bound to be dispelled as the day passes.

    I think we can safely assume that Wordsworth’s admiration for the sight he saw in London at that particular time and place to be genuine. But I am inclined to believe that there’s a hint of resentment in the poem about the on-going industrialisation in the city. In the poem, I think Wordsworth has deliberately avoided mentioning the products of industrialisation, such as workers, factories and shops (except one of its negative impacts, namely air pollution by factory smokes); and what’s included in the ‘touching’ London sight are inventions and architectures of the pre-Industrial Revolution period: ‘ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples’ that are ‘bare’ – untainted by the smokes of factories – and are bathed in the sun like ‘valley, rock, or hill’ in rural areas that makes them look ‘so bright and glittering in the smokeless air.’

    Also, I really like Wordsworth’s use of two words that carry similar meanings – ‘majesty’ and ‘mighty’ – to compare and contrast the ‘silent’ and ‘fair’ sight of London he saw once with the hustle and bustle of the city as usual: that the majestic sight of London could only be seen when ‘the mighty heart is lying still.’

  9. The poem begins with a shocking statement, especially for a Romantic poet: "Earth has not anything to show more fair." This statement is surprising because he is not speaking of nature, but of the city. He goes on to list the man-made things, such as "Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples." In fact, nature's influence isn't described until the 7th line, when the speaker relates that the city is "open to the fields, and to the sky." While the city itself may not be a part of nature, it is certainly not in conflict with nature. This becomes even more clear in the next line, when the reader learns that the air is "smokeless" (free from pollution). Wordsworth continues by personifying the scene, giving life to the sun, the river, the houses, and finally to the whole city, which has a symbolic heart. By using personification in his poem, Wordsworth brings a kind of spirit to the city. Therefore, I would say it is a poem which glorify the nature beauty of London, rather than its man-made construction of London.

  10. I agree that it is a love poem to London. But if I work it backwards, it is also a hate poem to the people of London, who tainted the beautiful scenery and nature of London. I think the persona prefers the London without human activity.

    I don't understand the relationship/connection between the sonnet structure and the theme of the poem.

  11. I think Wordsworth’s poem depict London that after the baptism of the industrial revolution.
    At this time, he uses personification, he likened London to a sleepy man, I think there are two of meaning, one is that “London” is too tired, because they have had a very difficult time, so they are immersed in their own sweat dreams now. Second is in his eyes, he is only to depict the wonderful scene in the morning which are a developed, modern, optimistic and active metropolis. I prefer the explanation of the former.

  12. Wordsworth begins the poem with a subjective statement on the beauty of a beautiful morning in London city. On first reading, it seems that Wo is simply describing what he is seeing and that he loves seeing. However, it becomes ambiguous of his love to this city when the city is depicted as lifeless whereas motion is only found in the natural movement of the river. I wonder the significance for Wordsworth to choose to write about Westminster Bridge in 1802 to make his poem symbolic and in the form of a romantic poem.

  13. During the age of Industrialisation, romanticists like Wordsworth instead write poems about peaceful scenery and nature because he didn't like the exploitation of nature due to human constructions and industrial development. In the first stanza, I think using the word "garment" there means something silky and comfy which is like how the river flows and like the morning unpolluted refreshing air. And many more of the descriptions show how he appreciates and glorifies nature.

  14. The whole poem is to suggest how nature can be beautiful in the early morning without any human activities. He expressed how impressive and extraordinary these sceneries are, by saying that "earth has not anything to show more fair" and "never did sun more beautifully steep" and all the usage of words like "bright", "sweet"… These directly suggest the beauty of London without human destruction, which is quite like an illusion.

  15. Since the poem is named with a specific date and time, it is convincing to say that this is not a love poem to London itself, just to express his fascination to a specific morning scene upon the Westminster Bridge.
    I think the word “bare” does not seem contradict to me with the phrase wearing a garment of the morning beauty. As you said, it is probably a choice to fit in the rhyme scheme. I think “bare” can be interpreted as unpretentious; the original scenery of London.

  16. I agree with you that this poem is not about how beauty and a great place of city of London is, rather, it is more a poem address to the beauty of morning. In the beginning of the poem, Wordsworth has expressed his subjective feeling about how beauty of those sceneries are. At the first sight, it seems that those impressive and extraordinary views he depicted are the city of London. But, this kind of beauty might in fact only appears in the morning. He might realize what he is astonishing at is not about the view of London city, but the beauty of morning. The beauty of the morning is too temporal, and that’s why most of people might just walk by without noticing this kind of beauty. The beauty of the morning will in the end vanish when the days continues or the life of the London city starts. Put it in another way, the beauty of the morning will no longer exist once people go to work, factories start their operation, and so on. In a nutshell, we might say that the beautiful sceneries Wordsworth at the moment appreciates can be attributed to the beauty of morning,

  17. I think it is rather implausible to argue that this poem is a hate poem solely by looking at the ambiguity of the words that Wordsworth used. This first few lines of the poem are still a very genuine description of what Wordsworth saw and they are undoubtedly beautiful. I think it is rather hard for us to overturn the whole feeling of the poem just by the fact that some of the words are ambiguous. I think this is still a great love poem to the city of London.

  18. I think I had a similar feeling of Wordsworth before when I stayed over night in Central during the umbrella movement. It decided to leave at 5:30am and that Central was so peaceful and calm without any people or a car, but only the rising sun with golden ray. However, I did not have the poetic dexterity to write a poem of the scene. I think the reason that I had that strong emotions is that it breaks the impression of mine on that place. Similarly, I think the sudden positive impact that hits Wordsworth to write this poem is similar to this experience, because the silence and calmness of London was rare and different from the London that most people thought about.

    I think the poem is about the love to London's morning but not morning only. It is because this spontaneously strong emotion appeared when he was staring at the Thame. Even though he seemed to dislike the London after the sun rises, surely the spontaneous pleasure of his could only be brought at that time and at that place. Therefore, I think the Morning of London is the target that he really loves, but not simply the natural sunrise.

  19. it really help me to understand the historical content of the poem.thanks but the voice is very unclear

  20. The poem that launched a thousand titles! "On the bridge between IFC and HSBC bank"

  21. Thank you sir. That was wonderdul. Could you please give me some reference on thw poem 'The Snail' by William Cowper. I will be ever grateful. Thank tou.

  22. I am impressed by your detailed explanation! Thank you for sharing this lecture.

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