Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Between July 31 and September 3, 1802, William and Dorothy Wordsworth traveled to France to visit William’s former lover, Annette Vallon, and William and Annette’s illegitimate daughter, Caroline. Even though at this time Wordsworth was preparing to marry someone else, one should not assume that the visit was at all traumatic. The reader gets quite the opposite impression from the poet’s account of a walk with his daughter that he describes in another sonnet, “It Is a Beauteous Evening.” War had separated Wordsworth and Annette for ten years, and any idea that they might marry had been put aside. Undoubtedly, Wordsworth was living intensely at this time, but the reader should resist trying to find any specific autobiographical meaning in this poem.
To a reader of Wordsworth’s other poetry, the most unusual thing about “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802,” is its subject matter. In most of his poetry, Wordsworth describes natural scenes: streams, hills, mountains, woods, and meadows—natural sights located in Switzerland, Wales, and most of all in the Lake District in northwestern England. He not only describes those scenes but also explains how experiencing them refreshes and ennobles the human spirit. In contrast, he usually pictures cities in general, and London in particular, as the opposite of the country, as places where those ennobling experiences do not happen, places where human nature is degraded. He celebrates his own escape from a city in the opening lines of...
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