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London vs. Composed Upon Westminster Bridge: Wordsworth and Blake

A detailed essay analyzing these two poems.

In my essay I will be comparing and contrasting the two poems ‘London’, written by William Blake and ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’, by William Wordsworth.

Both these poems are from the Romantic period which was towards the end of the eighteenth century. The poets

were influenced by the French Revolution and looked at closeness to nature. Wordsworth aimed to make the reader feel good things and express the beauty of nature.

The meaning of ‘Composed’ is shown by Wordsworth’s thought expressed throughout the poem. He makes us aware of how London has a warm and positive effect on him. The word ‘touching’ is a powerful verb which demonstrates the emotion Wordsworth is experiencing. When someone is ‘touched’ by something we usually associate this with someone who is emotionally moved and in a positive state of mind. In this case Wordsworth becomes ‘touched’ by London’s beauty. Furthermore ‘bright’ and ‘glittering’ conjure up positive images. These adjectives could be representing the sun shining down on London. The author is linking in the city with the countryside. If he is associating ‘bright’ and ‘glittering’ with the sun, it could be showing how he thinks London has a great importance and a powerful force. Like without the sun nothing would grow and without London the country wouldn’t function and become prosperous.

Unlike ‘Composed’, William Blake focuses in on actual people in the city and shows an opposite feeling towards London. He views it as a dirtier, corrupt place and focuses in on these things in his poem; ‘London’. Instead of the ‘bright’ picture that is put across in ‘Composed’, Blake puts a ‘blackening’ image into our minds. His view of London is very negative: ‘Chimney sweepers cry’. This quotation shows us how the people of London are upset at what they are made to do. The injustice of hiring children as chimney sweepers that could lead to fatalities is shown. In this case the word ‘cry’ informs us of the children’s unhappiness and mistreatment because people crying are mostly unhappy. In addition the quotation ‘Harlots curse’ is strongly suggesting that there is disease being spread among the men of London. The word ‘curse’ implies that the prostitutes are giving people something bad which is most likely to be diseases. The unruly and illegal use of these prostitutes also puts across the dirtiness and crime of the city because it is illegal to hire prostitutes and men are cheating on their wives for these women.

Wordsworth’s affective choice of language is successful in expressing his positive opinion of London across to us. His choice of words are those that would be used to describe a woman; ‘fair’ and ‘like a garment wear’ which symbolizes a woman’s clothing and ‘fair’ symbolizes a woman’s hair. Wordsworth also includes a list in his poem which contains how much there is to love about the city: ‘ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples’, by creating a lengthy list we are made to believe that there are many aspects of London that should be pointed out and its beauty considered. It’s not as if there is only one building listed, the list therefore shows the consistency of London’s beauty.

Unlike ‘Composed’, the language used in ‘London’ creates a dark and depressing atmosphere. The use of the word ‘blood’ suggest the death of people and ‘soldiers sigh’ implies that the soldiers are very unhappy that they are made to fight. Repetition is used in the poem. ‘Every’ is repeated: ‘every cry of every man’, this quotation leads us to believe that there is not one person that is happy in the city because the word ‘every’ was used. It emphasizes how the city has a mass effect on everyone. Furthermore ‘marks of weakness, marks of woe’, we can tell from this that the people in London can clearly be seen as weak and sick as if it is marked on them. In addition the words ‘marriage hearse’ is a clever oxymoron that links the joys of marriage with death. The words could be describing how children that are born should be healthy and free from disease but the unfaithfulness of the husbands mean that they are using prostitutes and contracting disease. The children therefore suffer. It is clever because it explains how life is ruined by the crime of using prostitutes. We can also see London’s negativity when Blake states ‘the mind forged manacles’. This metaphor shows how the citizens are trapped by poverty, like handcuffs on a convict they are restricted and can’t escape to improve their well being.

In the two poems there is a small reference to religion. Wordsworth’s mention of ‘dear God!’ expresses the overwhelming effect that London has on him. By writing: ‘Dear God!’ we can clearly see his feeling of passion and enthusiasm because religion has a powerful influence on people. In this case it’s as if London to him has the same authority as God. The way Blake refers to religion in ‘London’ makes us feel as if it’s corrupt because ‘every black’ning church appalls’. The word black is associated with evil and impurity. It shows how the church no longer cares for its followers as they are ‘appalled’.  The poems are similar in the fact that both poets display a strong opinion in their work. ‘London’ deeply focuses on the negative aspect without any positive points. ‘Composed’ is the opposite in that there aren’t any negative points included. For example, he uses words such as ‘splendor’ and ‘mighty’.

The fact that ‘Composed’ is a sonnet shows Wordsworth’s passion for the city. Sonnets are traditionally written by men to women expressing their love for them, so structuring the poem in the form of a sonnet is a clever way to express his passion and love. It’s almost as if he feels London is his woman and he’s writing this love poem to her. The text of the poem is centered on the page like the heart is considered the center of our body. He views London as the heart of our country, or in his own heart. London is the most important city in England as the heart is our most important organ. The River Thames represents the wealth and trade that is transported over the country as blood is transported around our bodies, it is the life that flows through our country. Structuring the poem in this form demonstrates London’s importance.

However, the structure of ‘London’ differs as it is formed in four quatrains. From reading the first line: ‘I wander through each chartered street’, you would expect the poem to be like a literal journey through London or a progression of the poet’s thoughts. The poem begins with life as the narrator is meeting people: ‘every face I meet’; as the poem continues, events become increasingly harsh as it ends with death: ‘marriage hearse’. The word marriage links in with ‘Composed’ as it involves love, the word marriage can be related to Wordsworth and London. However in ‘London’ ‘marriage hearse’ displays how something that should be loveable (in this case London) is actually fatal because of disease.    

To conclude my essay I think that the main difference between the two poems is that ‘Composed’ focuses on the positive, enthusiastic points of London, whereas ‘London’ discusses the dirty, gruesome aspects. Composed also doesn’t mention how the people in the city behave whereas ‘London’ does. There aren’t many similarities between the poems apart from the fact that both of the poets display a very strong opinion in their view of London.

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