Composed upon Westminster by William Wordsworth is a celebration poem about how beautiful London is; an embodiment of purity where city and nature are deeply connected. This is surprising and therefore memorable as Wordsworth is regarded as one of the best Nature poets and therefore it is odd that he is praising the city, especially seeing as Wordsworth had attacked the city in the Prelude. It is presented almost as if it is a diary entry, a description of one man’s love of the best city in the world, “Earth has not anything to shew more fair”.
Composed upon Westminster Bridge is a Wordsworthian sonnet and its form is poignant as sonnets are usually used to illustrate love, and this poem is about his love of London. This poem is written in iambic pentameter, consisting of five pairs of unstressed and stressed sounds. However in the first two lines, the first syllable is stressed, ‘Earth’ and ‘dull’. This loose rhythm makes it sound more realistic and comes closer to a conversational tone. This tone allows Wordsworth to effectively evoke a sense of place. This is backed up by the fact that Wordsworth has titled his poem like a diary entry, Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1803. This also shows that this moment was memorable to him as it was as if he wrote it in his diary.
In Composed upon Westminster Bridge the River Thames is personified as someone drifting along at his own free will with no purpose or need, in essence a metaphor for freedom, “The river glideth at his own sweet will”. The form of the line mimics this sense; the sounds of the line are long representing the calmness of the scene and the word ‘glideth’ is onomatopoeic to the same effect. This imagery allows Wordsworth to create a sense of place.
In Composed upon Westminster Bridge, God is presented as a very positive figure as he has provided such a beautiful landscape and because of the connection between the city and nature at its purest form, “Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie //open”. The use of enjambment shows that there is no barrier between nature and London and that all different interests are allowed to thrive. In order to represent such a beautiful scene, Wordsworth uses figurative language. He uses hyperbole in the first line by saying that nothing is more beautiful than the view from Westminster Bridge.
He also uses this technique again in lines 9-11 where he claims that the effect of the sunrise on London creates a beauty that has been ‘never felt’. Hyperbole is effective as it is often used in conversation to illustrate extreme views. In the phrase “dull would he be of soul who could pass by // A sight so touching in its majesty” the word ‘dull’ is an implicit metaphor to the dull person’s soul been worn down by time and experience, the opposite of innocence which this poem is illustrating. Also the phrase “touching in its majesty” is a paradox as touching is an intimate and personal verb, while something majestic is grand and public. With this phrase, Wordsworth comes close to capturing the indescribable feeling of familiarity and distance at the same time and therefore effectively creates a sense of place.
Wordsworth also personifies the city and the nature surrounding it to bring the writing to life and add to the overall sense of the poem. The houses are personified as sleeping people because the quiet and still, important as Wordsworth is portraying the beauty of the city without humanity, “All bright and glittering in the smokeless air”, giving the sense of innocence and beauty. The city is also personified as a person with a heart. The heart is ‘lying still’ as it is suggesting, like the previous quotation, that the people are asleep. This personification adds to the sense of lace of the poem.
Elizabeth Brewster memorably creates a sense of place by opening the poem with a clear statement of intent. This is an effective narrative hook as the reader wants to know how the poet will justify what seems to be an odd assertion. The poem is written in free verse and is in a relaxed and conversational tone. Brewster starts the poem with a simple antithesis and the poem is formed by juxtaposing the city which is portrayed as bad and the nature is portrayed as good. Brewster clearly portrays the city by describing it in one long sentence with enjambment and caesura which portrays the large size and unparalleled nature of the city. The multi-syllabic complex nouns, “almost-not-smell” and “chromium-plated” convey the plurality and complexity of the city. The poet evokes a sense of place memorably by repeating the sense of smell, “like the smell of fog”. Smell is memorable as it is an odd sense to evoke in a poem.
Elizabeth Brewster states that the city overwhelms nature as it is too regimented. “Art” is the epitome of freedom and the city is restrictive as it is “tidily plotted with a guide book”. Also, the phrase “little” is diminutive. The description, “chromium-plated” is juxtaposed strongly against the “wooden farmhouses” that are present in the place that Brewster grew up (a rural lumber town in Canada). Brewster portrays the town as a rustic but beautiful place. Brewster also suggests that the town is shabby and ramshackle as she describes the “wooden farmhouses in need of paint” and “battered schoolhouses”. This could suggest that although the rural town seems shabby it is beautiful and the city’s façade looks polished, but beneath the surface it is just the “smell of subways” and “glue factories”. This constant juxtaposition helps to memorably evoke a sense of place.
A sense of place is also created by the sudden epiphany in the last couplet where the poet suddenly realises that life in the country is also hard. The harsh language used, “a frosty wind” shows that the poem seems to end in bleak winter. It is quite a negative image and the final half-line creates an eerie sense of emptiness and silence. This final couplet is ambiguous and oddly metaphysical and symbolises her refusal of cliché and she is very down to earth and realistic.
Explore how the poets memorably evoke a sense of place in ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ and ‘Where I Come From’