Sunday, 22 June 2008

Upon Westminster Bridge

With my son recently born in very close proximity of Westminster Bridge (but unfortunately not overlooking it for reasons too convoluted to delve into), I had a vague recollection of something we had read (or more precisely had to read) at school almost two decades ago.

It somehow had stuck to my memory in particular for its beautifully simple first line and I had to think of it when I drove home from the hospital, crossing Westminster Bridge, turning onto the Embankment around midnight with the city being relatively quiet.

While I usually consider this to be the most picturesque stretch of London on any occasion, just having experienced the birth of my first child gave the drive a totally different emotional angle.

The poem I thought of was not difficult to track down, and while London anno 1802 was certainly different than it is today (presumably), it was nice to see that the perception of its beauty has hardly changed.

The circumstances I found myself in that night made me realise that sometimes words you have heard more than 20 years ago touch your soul and stick with you, sometimes without you even knowing it.

It took an event of indescribable power to make "Earth has nothing to show more fair" surface in my head as the first line which Wordsworth had composed upon that very bridge.

And I thought that words that were written more than 200 years ago can still touch somebody today is a sign of human genius.

I hope that my son will think likewise many decades from now.

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 the 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!

(William Wordsworth, 3rd September 1802)