Transcribed in early 1806, this is the manuscript William Wordsworth sent to the printers of the poem ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1803’, published in Poems in Two Volumes (1807).
When was it actually composed?
In 1838, Wordsworth corrected the date – apparently of completion – to ‘Sept 3, 1802’, and noted that it had been ‘composed on the roof of a coach, on my way to France’. It may have been started on 31 July when, as the poet’s sister Dorothy wrote, they set off around 5 or 6.30am:
The City, St Paul’s, with the river and a multitude of little boats, made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly with such a pure light that was even something like the purity of one of nature’s own spectacles.
What changes can we see have been made?
Besides ‘or’ and ‘so’ having been added over illegibly erased words in lines 10 and 11, ‘heart’ has been replaced with ‘soul’ on line two, perhaps to avoid confusing the image of the ‘mighty heart’ on the last line.
What is significant about the form?
On 21 May 1802, Dorothy read William the sonnets of John Milton; the effect has been compared to that reading Chapman’s Homer had on John Keats. Excited by rediscovering the form, Wordsworth wrote three sonnets the same day; Poems in Two Volumes contains 56 in total.
Composed upon Westminster Bridge
September 3rd 1803
Earth has not anything to shew more fair:
Dull would he be of heart ^ soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in it’s majesty:
This City now doth like a G ^garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, & temples lie
Open unto the fields, & to the sky;
All bright & 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 mighty heart is lying still.
N.B. next sonnet begins
Beloved Vale &c See No 15