For this piece of coursework, I will be comparing two pre- twentieth century poems, both of which composed by familiar poets. The poems were written at different time periods; therefore it is necessary for me to explore the different techniques and meanings behind each poem.
‘A London Fete’ which was written in 1890 by Coventry Patmore, postdates the events at a public execution. In this poem, Patmore describes an execution and the effects it has on those watching. He chooses to focus on the surroundings and atmosphere rather than the pain felt by the condemned.
The other poem, which I will be comparing, is a romantic sonnet written by William Wordsworth, ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge.’ He reflects upon the inspiration of urban London and the cultural symbols as he experiences it from Westminster Bridge. It’s characteristic of his love for solitude that it is set in the early morning. Throughout the poem he is telling the reader that there is no scene better in the world than this one upon Westminster Bridge. The poem definitely captures the spirit of romanticism and reflects the ideology of William Wordsworth.
The public at the execution in Patmores’ poem appear to believe that justice has been served.
“To windows, where, in freedom sweet, others enjoy the wicked treat.”
If they disagreed with the execution they wouldn’t have been enjoying the scene. This contrasts with the opinions of people in today’s society, as they view execution as being against all human rights.
However, the other poem doesn’t give direct views from the public but we can tell the authors opinions of them.
“The very houses seem asleep: And all that mighty heart is lying still”
Here, the poet is using personification by referring the people of London to a ‘Mighty’ heart. A heart is a positive thing because it gives life, without it we wouldn’t be alive. London wouldn’t be ‘London’ without the people that make it alive. Both publics are described differently.
‘A London Fete’ is set in Newgate which is a prison situated in London.
“With echoes Newgate’s granite clanged: the scaffold built at eight o’clock.”
This tells us that this execution happened the day after the scaffold was constructed. The fact that it was held in the day would have meant that it was clearer for the public to witness the hanging, being able to see every bit of pain the prisoner experienced. Having a prison as a setting would suggest that it’s daunting and hot along with claustrophobic effects due to the large crowds that have gathered.
The setting of Wordsworths’ poem differs from that of Patmores’.
“Never did the sun more beautifully steep…”
This poem is set in the morning where there is no bustle and noise. This simply enforces the stillness, silence and angelic perfection of London at a sunrise. The poet doesn’t only want the reader to notice the sunrise, but he wants one to be absorbed by the suns warm rays and feel relaxed, taking a breathe of fresh clean air.
This setting differs from the other poem as he is alone and there is no noise being made by crowds.
Furthermore, the poet of ‘A London Fete’ creates a negative mood in the way that he describes the actions of the crowd.
”Mothers held up their babies to see, who spread their hands and crowed with glee…”
This creates deleterious images of people enjoying the punishment and the desire for their babies to witness the horrific scene. A mood of wickedness and evil is emphasised, providing the reader a feeling of despair as little ones are held up to see the execution. Children should be protected from violence and death but yet here the mothers are blatantly exposing their babies to a public killing of a man. Times have definitely changed as executions are now held behind closed doors and only specific adults are allowed to be present. In comparison to the other poem this poet does not value life very highly whereas the other poet has the notion of life having great significance and radiance.
In ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’, the poet incorporates nature into the scene.
“….Open unto the fields, and the sky…”
In a cityscape, one of the last things a reader would think about would be nature and clear blue skies. He sets a very positive peaceful tone demonstrating nature co-existing with man. When you think of a city you generalise it as a ‘concrete jungle’ with all its features being cold and unfriendly. Yet, this poet characterises the city as, “never felt a calm so deep,” creating a peaceful and friendly environment. To him the ‘earth’ is the centre of all life and therefore merges nature is all he views.
‘A London Fete’ is a narrative poem where Patmore makes use of extended lines separating the different stages
”They brought the man out to be hanged…” ”…The rope flew tight: and the roar burst forth afresh…” and “The dangling corpse hung straight and still.”
These three quotes from different sections of the poem show the three major stages of the execution. This tells the reader directly that the man was hung and that he died.
”With echoes Newsgate’s granite clanged,” “They brought the man out to be hanged.” “To windows, where, in freedom sweet, others enjoy the wicked treat.”
“…A single cry that shook the air…”
The poem appears to be broken into different stages. The first quote introduces the setting, which creates the mood, as Newgate a prison would be seen as negative as it is an institution for those behaving illegally or wrongfully. The next quote draws the reader’s attention to what is actually taking place. In the following quote he continues to concentrate more on the crowd’s actions while slowly building the tension. Lastly, he returns to focus on the effect upon the crowd. I think that this is an excellent way to separate the various events occurring whilst escalating the tension. It keeps the reader involved in the scenes and adds to emotional despair of how heartless the public was.
However, the other poem is a 14-lined descriptive sonnet, which is separated into rhyming couplets to keep the poem flowing
”All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.”
This calls to mind the image of endless clearness, endless purity. The poet describes the sunrise being bright and glittering. He focuses more on describing details that he observes from the bridge rather than telling a story. “Earth has anything to show more fair”, then 3 lines down, “This city now doth like a garment, wear.” The words ‘fair’ and ‘wear’ rhyme, this structure continues throughout the poem. Due to this poem being relatively shorter than the other one, the poet doesn’t need to make use of sections.
A unique reference to religion was made in Wordsworths’ poem.
“A slight so touching in its majesty…” …dome, theatres and temples lie…”
The word “majesty” portrays “this City”, being London, as anointed by God to represent his kingdom on Earth. Dead in spirit would one be if he of she was not moved or appreciated its beauty. The word ‘temple’ was used instead of church to enhance the belief that the city was specifically chosen by God. A church represents Christianity, which was founded upon the death of Christ. However, Christ along with God’s chosen people were Jewish and worshiped in temples not churches. Therefore, the word “temple” brings a closer relation to God, as it is a specific dwelling place of a holy or divine being.
On the other hand, Patmore doesn’t mention religion as such but rather makes reference to hell.
”thousands of eyeballs lit with hell…” and “chaos of noises”
This is contrasts with Wordsworth as the imagery been created here is negative and it shows just how evil the people were being. As opposed to Wordsworth poem circling around godliness, Patmore seems to refer to the dark realm of Satan. Words such ‘chaos, hatred, wicked treat’ and ‘blasphemed’ are significant of demonic behaviour. Demons thrive on a chaotic world, as they hate what God stands for that being love, peace and joy. This poem is full of evil and hatred and leaves the reader feeling distraught as life should not have to be as miserable as Patmore makes it out to be.
Third person is used in ‘A London Fete’.
“These, blasphemed and fought for places, these half-crushed, with frantic faces…”
This allows the poem to give you the opportunity to experience the role of the poet. It also makes it easier for the reader to relate to the event and to experience the different emotions caused by the actions.
‘Westminster Bridge’ is a sonnet that starts off as third person narrative, but then changes at the end of the third verse to a first person narrative.
“In his first splendour, valley, rock or hill…” then changes to first person, ”. Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!”
By writing in third person, it makes the poem less personal as he doesn’t state his opinion directly. It also seems like he is passing judgement on what he has witnessed. Nearer to the end of the poem, it switches to the first person. This sudden change is effective as it captures the reader’s attention.
Throughout the poem, Wordsworth uses natural imagery, images that the reader will find easy to relate to. The readers are familiar with them, as they persistently seeing them around.
“The river glideth at his own sweet will.”
This river is moving at its own pace, its not being forced nor stopped. The poet makes use of a metaphor by demonstrating that the river is free. Nature provides the means to understand our own life, which is succumbed to chaos and disturbance. Our life has no peace or harmony but nature is the only source, which grants us the understanding of this rationality of romanticism.
However, Patmore tends to focus more on describing the actions of the crowd followed by the state of nature.
“Here a girl from her vesture tore…”
This explains the actions of the girl who is standing in the crowd. By using this technique, it creates more of a darkening, negative imagery. We tend to relate nature to calmness and peace where Patmore is trying to cause the opposite negative effect upon the reader.
Wordsworth is so overcome by this perfection that he cries out to God. Thanking and praising Him for allowing him to be a witness to such a sight.
“Dear God! The very houses seem asleep: and all that mighty heart is lying still!”
If we think about the metaphor of the heart, a heart beats constantly. A ‘mighty heart’ would have a huge beat. But it’s still, almost as though life and activity are suspended. He compares London to a heart, as London is the capital and the centre of England, where the life is flowing from in the form of Government and commerce. Wordsworth is comparing it to the heart in the human body pumping blood to the arteries and veins.
Subsequently, Patmore doesn’t use the same technique but one that creates a similar affect.
“…that clatter and clangour of hateful voices…”
He uses onomatopoeia that creates emphasis on it just like the other poem aims at but by using a different technique. The usage of sound effects helps the reader to relate to it because it refers to one of our senses, hearing.
I think that both poets were successful in emphasising specific parts of the poem.
At the time of this specific execution, Patmore was most likely to be in his childhood. The reason for this is that he is able to describe the other children’s actions. ”Two children caught and hanged a cat…” Its clear that this experience must have had a profound effect on him as he is still able to recall all the emotions and actions he felt then as an adult when he composed the poem.
Wordsworth continually mentions nature, which is in fact talking about the originality of man and this world. The world of Nature reflects the world of unchanged values and it’s the contrast of our present world. There are some aspects of life where we cannot understand life entirely. The poem reflects the attitude and moods of nature, “dull he would be who could pass by nature”. This throws light clearly that to observe nature is actually to remind one the natural relation of man’s to this universe.
After reading Wordsworth’s poem, I can feel nothing but tranquillity, picturing myself there, looking at “the beauty of the morning” quiet, “asleep,” and “bare.”
“Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie.”
The word “lie” conveys that the “ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples” seem to recline and are conscious of their marvellous existence.
After reading ‘A London Fete’, I was shocked. I didn’t realise how public execution took place outside where people of all ages were able to witness it, even the young ones…”Mothers held their babes to see…” This poem disturbed me, as I could not believe how callous people were many years ago. I felt sympathy for the man, as he had to go through so such humiliation. He not only lost his life but also lost his dignity publicly before being hung. I believe that a man should be held accountable for his actions but the way in which executions are held today in privacy with a few witnesses is far a more humane method.
Wordsworth uses beautiful language and clever literary devices, especially imagery, to make the city come alive before the reader’s eyes. At the end he mentions “houses,” where the inhabitants live, the life of the city, seem to be suspended in time. Wordsworth’s ending simply reinforces the stillness, silence and angelic perfection of London at a morning sunrise leaving the reader in a good mood.
Patmore was able to make the reader feel as if they were watching the crowd and witnessing the effects that were taking toll on them. He was able to create the negative, dark, and uncomfortable atmosphere. He was also able to get his views across in a subtle indirect manner. After reading both these poems, it has improved my knowledge about what life was like prior to the twentieth century.