A Poet's Guide to Britain - William Wordsworth
Poet and author Owen Sheers presents a series in which he explores six great works of poetry set in the British landscape. Each poem explores a sense of place and identity across Britain and opens the doors to captivating stories about the places and the lives of the poets themselves. This episode features Composed upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth.
In 1802, Wordsworth, the great Romantic poet of nature and the man famous for writing about the Lake District, daffodils and clouds, penned a short but electrifying poem about the stinking, filthy, heaving city of London. In fact, the poem was a captivating, sublime portrait of the city at dawn which still has the power to catch one's breath.
Sheers investigates what Wordsworth was doing when he wrote the poem on a summer morning in 1802, and uncovers a story that involves three different women. Wordsworth lived in Grasmere in the Lake District, sharing a small cottage in an unusual domestic arrangement with his sister Dorothy. In the spring of that year he decided to marry an old schoolfriend, Mary Hutchinson. However, in order to do so he first needed to clear the air with his French ex-girlfriend and mother of his daughter Caroline, a nine-year-old girl he had yet to meet.
In July 1802, William and Dorothy set out from Grasmere to Calais via London on the intriguing journey that would lead them across the bridge. Sheers follows their journey, discovers how the poem came into existence and examines exactly what Wordsworth wrote. He talks to Wordsworth fans including that epitome of Northern cool, poet Simon Armitage, the writer-in-residence at the Wordsworth Trust, Adam O'Riordan, and some of the commuters who cross Westminster Bridge every morning on their way to work.