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29 Jul 2014
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Wordsworth Revisited
An Alternative 21st Century View of London

It's 200 years to the day since William Wordsworth penned his sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge.

It's a celebration of the wealth, power and beauty of London, a city that looks significantly different now.

Click here to listen to Wordsworth's sonnet, read live from Westminister Bridge, plus the updated interpretation.

Here is the text of the original poem, as read on the programme from Westminster Bridge by Paul Farley, Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust.

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge Sept 3, 1802 by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Earth has not any thing to shew 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 splendor 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 mightly heart is lying still!

The phrase 'smokeless air' may not ring true for many 21st Century Londoners.

As a result, poet Ian McMillan (commissioned by The Globe Theatre to write sonnets inspired by Wordsworth) came up with the following words to describe a London familiar with bike-couriers and ample amounts of litter.

WORDSWORTH'S RETURN TO WESTMINSTER BRIDGE (by Ian McMillan)

Earth has not any thing to show more fair
(Well, to be honest, actually it does)
than this view of floating litter through the city air
I can't hear myself think above the buzz
Of motorcycle couriers shouting loud
Obscenities to the shuffling crowd
Who move across this bridge as slow as sludge
Who point and gawp and spit and swear and trudge
Never did sun more grudgingly shine
On the torn up timetables of cancelled trains
Which drop like confetti on empty bottles of wine
Smashed by those smashed out of their brains
Last night as Big Ben's chimes rang forth
And I'm glad that I live in the civilised North!


LINKS:
The Wordsworth Trust
Official Ian McMillan website

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Westminster Bridge today
Listen - the 19th century original and Ian McMillan's contemporary sonnet
The London Eye
Other Arts Stories


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