Two Poems in Different Keys

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker who is now considered to be a key figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. He lived in London most of his life but he produced a unique set of poems which valued the power of the imagination highly. Considered mad by some people of his time for his odd views, Blake is held in high regard by later critics for his creativity, and for the philosophy and mysticism in his work. He was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American revolutions, as well as radical thinkers, but he and his work are difficult to classify.

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) is probably the most famous English poet and was a major English Romantic who helped to launch the Romantic Movement in English literature with the 1798 publication of Lyrical Ballads with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, another famous poet. While his greatest work is generally considered to be The Prelude, a poem in several volumes which at least partly told of his early years, the poem ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3rd, 1802’ is one of his most famous.

The Romantic Movement was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that began in Europe towards the end of the 18th century¡, reaching a peak between 1800 to 1840. The Industrial Revolution had caused a great deal of social change, and Romanticism was a kind of protest against that as well as being against aristocratic social and political norms and the scientific rationalization of nature which was going on at the time. It included visual arts, music, and literature and validated strong emotions like fear and awe particularly when confronting nature in a wild state. Romanticism was also about strangeness, the unfamiliar, especially when using the power of the imagination to escape.

The spectrum of thought and feeling conjured by this movement and by these two poets is probably nowhere better seen than in the following two poems.

'Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3rd, 1802' by William Wordsworth

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;