The BBC’s poetry season included a sweet programme last night about Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lines Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’. Presenter and poet Owen Sheers shared his lovely insight that the poem has become more, not less resonant over the years. The surprise of finding oneself on the bridge with the sudden sense of air, light, space and the tremendous cityscape has only increased in the context of more and more urban building. It’s true: the poem recites itself in my head every time I walk across the bridge. I had to learn it by heart at school, long before I ever saw London, crossed Westminster Bridge or knew what Wordsworth was talking about. Now his lines come back effortlessly when I see that view, a tribute to my school’s mission to make us memorise poetry when we were little.
For me the revelation of the programme was Owen Sheers’ reading from the journals of, who crossed Westminster Bridge with him that day in September 1802 on the top deck of a post-coach. I knew that she was thought to have been a major influence on her brother’s thinking, but it was startling to hear her own description of their journey, either echoing his sentiments or prompting them. Somehow I felt it was the latter. After hearing the way she wrote in her diary I could almost hear her voice saying to him, ‘Dear God, William! The very houses seem asleep.’