Index  Dorothy Wordsworth

She gave me eyes

The City now doth like a garment wear the beauty of the morning

Westminster Bridge – the city as a natural phenomenon

We left London on Saturday morning at half-past five or six, the 31st of July. We mounted the Dover coach at Charing Cross. It was a beautiful morning. The city, St. Paul's, with the river, and a multitude of little boats, made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke, and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light that there was even something like the purity of one of nature’s own great spectacles.

The Wordsworths left London for Dover in the summer of 1802 to take the boat to France. The magnificent view of the metropolis, not covered by a smog blanket so early in the morning, made an unforgettable impression. Forty years later, William remembered that, sitting on the roof of the stagecoach, he immediately tried to capture the spectacular cityscape in a sonnet. He completed the poem on his return to London a month later and places the city - just after sunrise with all the 'ships, towers, domes, theaters and temples' - in the broad perspective of the surrounding fields and overarching sky. For a moment the beating heart of the metropolis seems to stand still. Houses and the surrounding landscape merge into one whole, the city crowns nature as a source of tranquility. Never before has the poet felt a ‘calm so deep’.

Composed upon 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!

Dorothy probably recorded her impression from the stagecoach in her Grasmere Journals no earlier than a month later. This is in contrast with the normal procedure by which a note from her inspires William only after years to write a poem. Obviously, in the weeks since the ride over Westminster Bridge Williams' sonnet has been a constant topic of discussion and Dorothy has acted as a sounding board and proponent of suggestions.