Poems are written about many different things like death, people, places and love with the poet always trying to give the reader a sense of what emotions the poet felt. For this assignment, I will try to discover how a poet portrays a vivid sense of place by comparing two poems, “Westminster Bridge”, a sonnet and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. The first of the two was written by a poet named William Wordsworth in the 18th century. The latter was written by a poet named Robert Frost in the 20th century.The first poem “Westminster Bridge” is a sonnet and was written about the famous bridge which crosses the river Thames in London.
In the octave of this sonnet Wordsworth sets the scene and in the sestet we learn more about his feelings towards the scene.Wordsworth begins the sonnet with the dramatic claim:Earth has not anything to show more fairThis is an example of hyperbole, exaggeration for effect. Although an exaggeration, he goes on to back up this claim and by doing this we are able to imagine the place and see what he saw.At no point in the sonnet does Wordsworth describe the actual construction which is the bridge. Instead he writes more about, I think, the general atmosphere of the place and describes it as:A sight so touching in its majestySo, here, we wonder if the sight is the bridge itself or if it has something to do with the day being so beautiful, or a combination of both. Either way the word “majesty” gives us a sense of grandeur and splendour and we can imagine the beautiful scene.
Again I must speculate, had the day been miserable, dark and gloomy, would Wordsworth have stopped to write the sonnet? I don’t think he would have because of the line “The beauty of the morning”. So I think the poet was subconsciously admiring how the morning was so beautiful. Also the morning was “silent” and “bare”. Possibly the poet was not used to a quiet London as it is the capital of England and this moved him to write the poem.As well as writing about the beauty of the morning I think he was writing about the whole of London.
I can imagine Wordsworth scanning the whole city taking account of the “Ships, towers, domes [and] theatres” that were present that morning.The other poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is very much in contrast to the other poem. Firstly because it is not a sonnet and exists as four verses. Intertwined in the verses are the poets feelings and his subtle description of the scene.As well as the two poems being in contrast in that sense they were also written at different times of the year. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was written in winter. We know this from the title itself. Simply from the title I can imagine a totally white scene that was created by the snow.
At first woods are of no real significance to the poet as they are just “woods” not “the woods”. This again is in contrast to “Westminster Bridge” as it is a very important bridge. However I can imagine Frost taking some time to admire the “woods filling up with snow”. Like “Westminster Bridge” there is no real detail about what the poem is about, i.e. what is in the title.
However the poet uses a general description of the “woods” and says they are “lovely, dark and deep” but this is more likely to just be his opinion. From this I am enclined to make up a picture in my own mind about the woods. I can see the floor of the woods being completely white with snow and also I can imagine the poet not being able to see very far into the woods as they are described as “deep”.Although the poet says that it was:The darkest evening of the yearI can imagine a certain amount of light being generated by the snow. And because of the contrast between the darkness and light, I think this brings on the sense of mystery surrounding the woods and this is reflected in the cryptic ending of the poem.In “Westminster Bridge” it seems hard to imagine that buildings were “Open unto the fields” in London. But the poem was written in Victorian England and therefore the city was not modernised as it is today and wouldn’t have had as many buildings.
Even though it was Victorian times we still learn that there must have been a certain amount of pollution. The morning in which Wordsworth wrote this sonnet he described the air as being “smokeless”. I can therefore imagine that the nights were full of smog and it was a welcome clearness for him to see in the early morning.As London is the capital city and is situated on a river I assume it was a busy port at the time the sonnet was written. Wordsworth tells us that there were “ships” but not how many-I think that there would have been quite a few on the river, some sailing and some not.
Another important feature that morning was the sun:Never did the sun more beautifully steepThis leads us to imagine the sun just rising over the horizon that morning and a beautiful glow that made everything shimmer and appear to feel warmth.Therefore, I think that Victorian London that morning would have been a very “fair” sight. Even though it was a capital city and there were buildings, probably more buildings compared to other towns at that time, it was still “open to the fields”. This then would have showed the beauty of the natural fields and the man made city.In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” I find it harder to picture rural New England. We do however learn that Frost was with his “little horse”, so this means that he was in a cart being led by the horse. This was probably the standard mode of transport at this time as cars were not that long invented and likely too dear for the average person.Also, it is likely that there was quite a lot of countryside, all covered in white, due to the snow.
I think this is because in the last line of the poem the poet write:And miles to go before I sleepwhich makes me think that he has a long distance to travel before he reaches his home or wherever he is going because villages were quite far apart.In the poem “Westminster Bridge” we are made very aware of what Wordsworth was feeling at the time he wrote the sonnet. This is probably due to the fact that the sestet of the sonnet expresses what he is feeling. However from the octave we learn a few things as well. For example the poet says:Dull would he be of soul who could pass byA sight so touching in its majestyFrom this we realise from the word “soul” that the “sight” affects him completely and he not only sees the beauty but he feels it in his soul as well. As he compares the sight to the word “majesty” we think of grandeur, and therefore we imagine that Wordsworth feels inadequate compared to the scene in front of him.As I said earlier we learn a lot about his feelings in the sestet and there is one fundamental feeling that we know Wordsworth experienced, he is in awe of what he saw in front of him.
We assume that Wordsworth had seen the early morning sun before, but that day:Never did the sun more beautifully steepThe overall emotion that he felt has lead him to think that everything is amazing.Wordsworth then tells us directly how he is feeling:Ne’er saw I, never felt I, a calm so deepI can envisage Wordsworth feeling an extreme amount of happiness brought on by the “sight so touching”. As well as this, I get the impression that everything is calm and in harmony with each other. This is because of the last three lines:The river glideth at his own sweet will:Dear God! the very houses seem asleepAnd all that mighty heart is lying still!The river is soft, quiet and smooth and reflects the peace that Wordsworth feels. To me the houses are symbols of the people in London who have not yet wakened as the houses themselves “seem asleep”. In the final line “mighty heart” is a metaphor of London. It is compared to a “mighty heart” as “mighty” suggests the size of the city and the fact it is the biggest city in England and “heart” represents it being the capital of England.
Due to the lack of people being awake and the general calmness of the city and river, all is “lying still” and this appeals to the poet so much that he says “Dear God” which shows he is giving God credit for the beautiful scene that is worthy of the word “majesty”.In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Frost portrays his feelings less clearly. The main emotion I feel during this poem is a sense of mystery because I wonder why was the poet out on such a cold evening and where has he to go before he sleeps?However most of the feelings I think Frost experienced I learned from in the last verse of the poem.
He describes the woods as “lovely, dark and deep”. These are three very different adjectives. If we imagine the “lovely” woods we think of the kind of woods that you would see on the front of a Christmas card, very beautiful and innocent. When we think of the “dark” woods, we think about a more sinister side to the woods and I think the poet could have been slightly frightened of them, as he did not know what to expect or what they could hold. And if we think of the “deep” woods, again we imagine the unknown, and I think of how the poet yearns to know what lurks in the depths.With these three words together the “lovely, dark and deep” woods are very enticing to the poet mainly because he does not know what to expect and also I think he is somewhat confused by a sight that can be “lovely, dark and deep” all at the same time.
As well as this, I envisage the poet sitting on the cart transfixed by what he sees. Possibly he is also hypnotised by the falling snow. This I think lures him into the woods, but he resists as he has “promises to keep” this leads me to believe that had he not “promises to keep” he would go into the woods.The most notable thing about this poem is the cryptic ending:And miles to go before I sleep,And miles to go before I sleep.The poet uses repetition here but no-one can be sure what he meant. Although they say the same thing I think the two lines mean different things. For me I think the poet was so caught up with the enticing woods that he forgot himself for a minute.
But then he came back to reality. Therefore the first “And miles to go before I sleep” means that he has some distance to travel before he is home and he forgot this for the time he was looking at the woods. And I think because he was suddenly brought back to reality he was confused and other thoughts came into his mind and so the second “and miles to go before I sleep” means that he has a long time to go before he dies.I have to admit that I liked both poems very much. “Westminster Bridge” is definitely a joyful sonnet and I can sense the poet’s sense of bliss on the fine morning the poem was written.
The poets’ use of the octave and sestet is very important as well and I liked the way there was description of the scene in the octave and the poets’ emotion in the sestet. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is very much in contrast to the other poem. I like the way we can never be entirely sure of what the ending means but also the way Frost describes the woods as “lovely, dark and deep” to me these words slightly contradict each other but work together wonderfully at the same time.In conclusion I think both poems give a vivid sense of place, “Westminster Bridge” being about the beauty of the bridge, London and the morning glow and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” being about he dark and mysterious woods that lead the poet to be transfixed by them.
And I think this poem requires a lot more imagination than “Westminster Bridge” to see the scene in my minds eye but both still are brilliant poems.