Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

by William Wordsworth

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Personification in Wordsworth's "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802"

Summary:

In "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802," Wordsworth personifies the city of London by describing it as wearing "a garment" of beauty, suggesting it is alive and vibrant. Additionally, he personifies the river as gliding along at its own will, adding to the sense of the city's dynamic and harmonious nature.

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How does Wordsworth use personification in "Composed upon Westminster Bridge"?

Personification is a literary device whereby non-human things and objects are endowed with human characteristics. There are a number of such examples in "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September." Wordsworth uses personification to make the city of London come alive, to convey the sense of a city waking up to a bright, beautiful morning. Using personification allows us to get closer to that sense of wonder that Wordsworth must have felt when writing his poem. The city is no longer just an urban landscape; it has recognizably human characteristics that make us identify more closely with the poet and the remarkable scene unfolding before his eyes.

This City now doth, like a garment, wear 
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare . . .
The city, waking up to another day, puts on the beauty of the morning in the way that someone would put on their clothes.
The river glideth at his own sweet will:  Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;  And all that mighty heart is lying still!
The river moves along at its own pace, free and flowing. It's early morning, and so most people are still asleep. Indeed, the houses themselves still seem to be sleeping. But Wordsworth wants to convey the impression of overwhelming vitality which he sees in the city in the early hours of the morning. So beneath the sleeping houses, it seems that the pulse of the city, its mighty heart, still beats. The stillness of the city speaks not of death; the city is truly alive and ready to wake up.
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How does Wordsworth use personification in lines 4 and 5 of "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802"?

This poem is written as a sonnet in which the poet, William Wordsworth, expresses his admiration for the city of London on a quiet morning. Throughout the poem, Wordsworth personifies London and thus suggests that he admires the city as someone might admire a person. The first instance of London being personified occurs in lines 4 and 5, which read

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare.

In these two lines, Wordsworth personifies London as a person who wears "like a garment" the "beauty of the morning." This personification of London suggests that the city is alive and with a will of its own. The fact that London is personified as wearing a beautiful "garment" also suggests that London here is being personified as an elegant and sophisticated person. Perhaps the implication is that London is being personified as the stereotypical Victorian English gentleman.

The city of London is also personified in the closing lines of the poem. In these closing lines, the poet writes that

the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

In the earlier part of the poem, London is personified as an elegant and sophisticated Victorian gentleman, but in these closing lines, London is personified as a strong, powerful figure. There is a suggestion, in this second instance of personification, that London has a dormant power, just waiting to be awoken. This is suggested when Wordsworth writes that London has a "mighty heart ... lying still." This, in combination with the image of the houses in the city being "asleep," implies that perhaps London is like a powerful figure at rest, soon to awake.

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Explain the personification in lines 12-14 of "Composed upon Westminster Bridge".

Wordsworth always felt much more at home in the countryside than in the city. Yet one golden morning, as he was crossing Westminster Bridge in London, he was struck by the extraordinary beauty around him, which inspired him to take up his quill pen and start writing.

It's still early morning in London and the city hasn't quite woken up yet. In the absence of any life, there's a quiet, majestic glory about the place, a characteristic one would normally associate with the natural world. Yet, even as the city sleeps, it still has a life of its own. This epitomizes the attitude of the Romantics, in general, and Wordsworth, in particular, towards nature—seen as a living entity in its own right. Wordsworth extends that attitude towards the sleeping city.

Before the tugboats start sailing on the Thames, "the river glideth at his own sweet will." In other words, before the people of London have woken up, nature is already active and awake. Yet the city, like nature, has a life of its own, its own heart, so to speak. Wordsworth senses it, beating away quietly but insistently beneath every roof, every dome, and every chimney-pot.

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Explain the personification in lines 12-14 of "Composed upon Westminster Bridge".

In the poem 'Composed Upon Westminster Bridge' William Wordsworth uses personification to depict the city, the river and the business heart of the city.

The line 'the river glideth at his own sweet will' refers to the autonomy that Nature has - always used by, but still more powerful than, man. Yes London is big, powerful and man-made but it can only use the river, not control it nor divert it, nor make it flow faster or slower. He may have been comparing, thinking back and reminiscing about his own Lakeland mountainous river 'The Derwent' which hurried and babbled its way past his childhood home. This river could be a life-threatening dangerous torrent (as has been the case this mionth in th UK where it has taken lives, including that of a police officer in the floods.)

The River Thames glides by because it chooses to, not because it is under London's control. Yes, we have the multi-million pound Thames Barrier in case of flooding nowadays, but the jury is out on whether that will be any match for a global warming tsunami coming up the Thames estuary or the Thames in a climate change spate. Wordsworth was always aware of the terrible force of danger that lay behind the beauty of Nature - how right he was.

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