Compare and contrast the poems 'upon Westminster bridge'

Categories: Poems

The first poem 'upon Westminster bridge' by William Wordsworth is about his love of London as he looks out from Westminster bridge in the early morning.

The poem is written in the form of a sonnet, which is appropriate given the poems main theme of his love for London. He has cleverly structured the poem to follow the pattern of iambic pentameter which puts stress on certain words to provide emphasis for instance in the first line "fair" is stressed to show how beautiful he considers London to be.

The rhyming pattern changes throughout the poem with it starting as ABBA but then changing to an alternative rhyme scheme (ABAB) at the start of the sestet.

The atmosphere and mood created by Wordsworth is that of awe and splendour. This mood shown by lines such as "a sight so touching in its majesty" emphasises the poems meaning of his love for the city. Calmness and tranquillity are also present throughout the poem, for example "the beauty of the morning silent, bare".

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The title itself tells us that the London Wordsworth is writing about is just what he can view from looking out from Westminster Bridge. This setting explains why the poem describes London as beautiful and awe inspiring. If Wordsworth had written the poem from another perspective, for example a rancid back alley, it is likely he would have been much less complementary. The title tells us the date when the poem is written (1802).

In the first line Wordsworth makes the statement "Earth has not anything to show more fair".

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His use of hyperbole makes this line powerful and a good introduction on which he can elaborate throughout the poem. His use of iambic pentameter allows him to put emphasis on "fair" to show how beautiful he considers London.

In the next line "dull would he be of soul" Wordsworth challenges that anyone who might not share his perception of London as being uncreative and having little or no imagination. This may have been a personal attack at fellow poet William Blake who harboured a clear distaste for the city.

The following line "a sight so touching in its majesty" follows on from the previous line as enjambment. To emphasise the end of the point Wordsworth has said " a sight so touching " to create an emotive impact. His use of the royal connotation "majesty" provides further emphasis by showing importance as well as the added significance that London is where the royal family reside.

The next line "this City now doth like a garment wear" personifies London to make it seem alive it also provides a feminine description to contrast with the masculine descriptions in the following lines for example when the river Thames is described "glideth of his own sweet will". Wordsworth spells city with a capital to purposely point out that London is the capital city.

In the next line Wordsworth subtly builds upon the personification shown in the previous line with "the beauty of the morning: silent, bare" suggesting that the city is alive but not yet awoken. It could also be that he's furthering his feminine description by suggesting that the city is like a beautiful woman sleeping. The use of punctuation with "morning: silent, bare" leads to a staccato deliverance making each of the words emphatic. Again a clear bias in Wordsworth's writing is shown simply by the use of the word "morning" as it shows that hardly any people would be hardly any people about and an accurate description of the grimmer side of London could not be made.

The following line "ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie" alludes to various London landmarks. For example "towers" could be referring to the houses of parliament or the tower of London, "domes" a direct reference to St Pauls cathedral and "theatres" meaning Shakespeare's 'globe' while the identity of the "ships" and "temples" remains anonymous.

The next line "Open unto the fields, and to the sky" is written to suggest instead of factories and warehouses of the industrial revolution encompassing the city and blotting its sky with smog London nestles between idyllic countryside with clear sky's.

The following line "all bright and glittering in the smokeless air" clarifies Wordsworth's vision of London by further showing the lack of industry as well how he likens the city to a precious jewel when he says "all bright and glittering".

The ninth line begins the second part of the sonnet as the previous eight lines join together as one sentence. When saying "never did the sun more beautifully steep" Wordsworth again uses the negative superlative "never" to challenge the views of people who don't share his view of London.

The next line "In His first splendour valley, rock, or hill" Wordsworth is probably referring to God when he says "His" which tells that Wordsworth believes in god and therefore attributes all of nature's splendour to god's divine creation.

The following line "Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep" Wordsworth again uses never to fully stress his point while he says "a calm so deep" to once again remind the reader of the tranquillity in the London morning. The "deep" is possibly referencing the river Thames as it is a deep river which causes it to be slow flowing and calm.

"The river glideth of his own sweet will" supports this thought as well as providing a contrast between the previous feminine description of the city by now showing the river to be masculine.

Wordsworth now praises god when he says "dear god! The very houses seem asleep:" as well showing how calm and empty the city is in the early morning.

"and all that mighty heart is lying still" shows that the city is alive and not only that but the integral centre of the country.

The second poem 'London' by William Blake is about how he views London. It is written with a bleak honesty of a citizen of London that helps to give its melancholic tone. The second poem bears many differences from the first including the most obvious dissimilarity of the moods (positive and negative) to subtleties that affect the authenticities of the descriptions like Wordsworth writing as a tourist compared to Blake's forehand knowledge of the city. Another difference is that Wordsworth writes from a stationary position whereas Blake moves through London throughout his poem.

The poems do show some similarities, both are set in London as well as both poems being written around the same time which means they are writing about the same London albeit in very different ways. They also feature some similar London landmarks such as the river Thames and Kensington palace.

'London' is written in four regular quatrains with an alternating ABAB rhyming pattern (e.g. chartered street...face I meet). The rhyming pattern remains the same throughout the poem making it repetitive. Blake does this do illustrate the monotonousness of life in London. The use of ABAB could also be to allow the poem to flow as the poem as the poem is written in first in first person as the poet moves around the city.

The atmosphere of the second poem is comparatively bleak against 'upon Westminster Bridge'. Blake creates this through powerful imagery e.g. "in every infant's cry of fear" or "runs in blood down the palace walls". A far cry from Wordsworth's praises e.g. "earth has not anything to show more fair". Both poems however do employ many of the same poetic devices to shape their poems for example both use repetition, enjambment and connotation.

The abruptness and simplicity of the title speaks volumes in terms of the poems meaning. It tells us that Blake is writing about London but more specifically what he sees in the city and how he focuses on the 'real' London rather than Wordsworth's romanticized vagary that only highlights London's architecture and natural splendour rather than its impoverished citizens.

The first line begins 'I wonder thro' showing immediately that this poem is written in first person like Wordsworth's poem but additionally and unlike Wordsworth poem it shows that it is written as Blake moves through the city. Blake's first criticism of London arrives early when he says 'each chartered street' the use of the word chartered referring to London as some grand design that throughout the rest of the poem Blake makes it clear it has failed because of the state of it's inhabitants.

The second line again uses chartered except this time in another meaning. 'The charter'd Thames does flow' means that the Thames has been stifled and controlled like a caged animal which is direct distinction to Wordsworth description of the rive 'glideth of his own sweet will'.

In the following line Blake uses the word "mark" and then twice again in the subsequent line. The first time he refers to mark as a noun meaning that he takes note of the people he passes whereas the next two times he uses "mark" as a verb to describe the physical effects on people from living in London. Again a major difference is shown when Blake refers to people something that Wordsworth neglects to do within his poem.

The start of the following stanza Blake says "in every cry of every man", he starts the next two lines in the same way with "in every". This use of repetition highlights the monotonous every day life of the lower classes. The grammatical subtlety of using a capital M in man shows that Blake is referring not to the male sex but mankind.

The following line leads on this time referencing infants. Blake writes that the 'infant's cry of fear' suggesting that instead of innocent naivety it is open understanding of their bleak future that they must face that these children show.

The next line reads "in every voice, in every ban". Blake makes two different allusions in this. The first "in every voice" means that the tiresome city erodes people's spirit and hope so much it is evident in the defeated drudgery of their speech. The second point "in every ban" could refer to the certification of marriage as indoctrination into the proletariat life (married young, large families) or could be linked to the later observation that marriage leads to death as husbands spread venereal disease as a result of adultery committed with prostitutes.

The final line of the stanza Blake makes the preceding lines meaning apparent by saying "the mind forged manacles I hear". This cumulative statement portrays the entrapment of the entire society and Blake's own feeling of helplessness shown by "I" that tells us how he is completely surrounded by the pain of every citizen. The "mind forged manacles" are not physical but purely figurative showing that people have accepted the status quo.

The third stanza starts "how the blackening chimney-sweepers cry" this shows that the society is trying to clean the ashes that cause their state of depression furthermore it shows that it is specifically the youth of the society that are trying to eradicate the mistakes of their ancestors as chimney sweepers were often only boys.

The next line "every blackening church appals" Is an oxymoron. Instead of the church being a place for redemption and salvation that reaches out to the working man it suggests it has been abandoned by London citizens. The mention of religion differs from Wordsworth who only references the architectural grandeur of the church and not the religious institution that would have been a prominent keystone in late 18th centaury early 19th centaury Britain.

The following two lines "and the hapless soldier's sigh...runs in blood down the palace walls" show that men are forced to go to war against there will to fight for the monarch. The "sigh" shows that the soldier is in submission and has accepted his fate to die in battle. The "palace walls" shows the physical barrier of the class divide and that the death of soldiers lies on the conscience of the king.

The final stanza depicts one the most salient and grim themes of the poem. It begins "but most thro' midnight streets I hear" that shows that the setting has changed from to day to night where the most harrowing events occur.

"How the youthful Harlot's curse... Blasts the new-born infant's ear... and blights with plagues the marriage hearse" shows that like the chimney sweep the victim is a youth. Her curse being the venereal disease that she passes onto her clients. The mention of the infant can mean one of two things, firstly it could be that she is a mother and that this fatherless child created not out of love but or it could be that the men she passes her disease to will in turn spread it to there wives leading to generations babies being born with the disease. The last line is and oxymoron, instead of the seal of marriage being a mark of companionship and happiness looking towards the future it is the damning sentence that adultery will lead to premature death for both the husband and the wife.

The main themes that 'London' is centred upon are poverty, death through war, prostitution destroying families and the entrapment of lower class life. Poverty encompasses the other main themes with them being products of poverty itself. The men may only be able to find work in the military which will most likely lead them to there death and the woman are forced to turn to prostitution which consequently spreads venereal disease through the society as a result of adultery.

Overall, I prefer the poem 'London' by Blake to Wordsworth's 'upon Westminster bridge' as it's depiction of London is brutally frank and has been crafted by a conscious citizen making it much more accurate as well as the fact that it describes city as not only the buildings and landscape that is composed of but the people who inhabit it.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Compare and contrast the poems 'upon Westminster bridge' essay
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