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IB A1 English
Middle School English
Composed Upon Westminster Bridge (1802)
Songs of Ourselves
Sonnet: 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!
1. Think of a place you have visited in recent years that took your breath away with its beauty. Describe what you saw and how it made you feel - either in poetry or prose - to give a sense of 'earth not having anything more fair' than what you witnessed.
2. Remember! When this poem was written in 1802, the much associated image with Westminster Bridge of the Houses of Parliament was not actually built. The images below give some indication of what it would have looked like.
Questions to consider
1. Briefly sum up the content of the sonnet.
2. Give two examples of hyperbole. Explain how these are effective in the context of the poem.
3. "A sight so touching in its majesty" is an example of paradox or oxymoron. Explain why this example might be interpreted as the poem's most important image.
4. What effect on the reader does the personification of London have in line 14?
5. What is the attitude of the speaker at the close of the poem? How can you tell?
6. The sonnet form was not much practised in England between Milton in the mid-seventeenth century and Wordsworth in the early nineteenth century. Which form of the sonnet has he chosen, and how does he employ the octave and sestet to convey his theme?
7. How do the first three lines keep the reader in suspense as to the subject of the poem?
8. Explain how the line beginning "This City" conveys at once a description of what is observed, and the observer's mood.
9. How is the contrast between the momentary hushed stillness of the city and its usual bustling activity implied, even though not actually stated?
10. How does line 8 create a sense of shimmering beauty?
11. How does punctuation contribute to the overall effect of the poem?
William Wordsworth Mini-Biography
Born in 1770 in the beautiful countryside of the north of England, Wordsworth often wrote of his deep love of nature and the countryside; in this sonnet, however, he recalls a moment when he and his sister Dorothy travelled to London and walked across Westminster Bridge in the early morning, before most people were awake. It is interesting that even when in the middle of England’s biggest city he still compares what he can see with the hills and valleys of his home countryside in the Lake District.
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