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Betjamen’s ‘Slough’ and Wordsworth’s ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ are both written about urbanity. Betjamen and Wordsworth both praise nature. Betjamen writes with hate and anger towards the city, Slough. Wordsworth uses natural imagery to praise London. Betjamen had a love for nature (he was a naturalist) but not a Romantic poet like Wordsworth. The poem, ‘Slough’ contains more modern language, this is explained as it is a 20th Century poem. Wordsworth was a Romantic Poet and writes with a more traditional style.
Although Betjamen has a passionate resentment towards Slough and Wordsworth writes with delight towards London, they both share the same opinion – that nature is beautiful.
Wordsworth’s ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ contains one fourteen-line stanza, known as a petarchan sonnet. It is known as a petarchan sonnet as the first eight lines of the sonnet are linked as an octet. This is because Wordsworth describes the man-made beauty of London using majestic imagery –
“The City doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare”.
This quotation contains personification. Wordsworth gives the city a personal attribute by saying the city wears a garment. He uses it to make the city seem like a royal person, therefore he is praising the Royalty of London, which we know he has support for.
In the last six lines (sestet), Wordsworth uses natural imagery to praise London-
“In his first splendor valley, rock or hill”
Although this change is significant, Wordsworth does it discreetly. He does it so that he has considered both the natural and man-made characteristics of London.
The natural imagery is deliberately left until the last six lines so it sticks in the mind of the reader.
Betjamen’s ‘Slough’ contains ten regular quatrains throughout and each stanza has a pair. They are paired through the subject matter. Stanza one is linked with stanza two, stanza three with stanza four, and so on until stanza nine and stanza ten. The subject of the first two stanzas is the unnaturalness of Slough –
From stanza one – “there isn’t grass to graze a cow”, this shows how Slough is unnatural as Betjamen says urbanity has taken over, as there is no grass left.
From stanza two – “tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk”, here Betjamen is implying that Slough is so unnatural that everything is tinned, rather than fresh. He does this so that subject matter is developed across the two stanzas. Betjamen has a slight change of subject every second stanza; this varies from Wordsworth as he has one discreet change just after halfway through ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’.
Betjamen also shows his dislike for the middle-class, he says in stanza four they –
“Always cheat and always win”. This is his way of hinting that the middle-class of Slough are dishonest. This is the topic of stanzas three and four. In stanza three he says –
“A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half-a-crown”.
This is a cheap mortgage that Betjamen is describing and the fact that it is so cheap is his way of telling us how the middle-class have little money. Betjamen has this low opinion of middle-class people, as all naturalists and romantics (including Wordsworth) believed they were dishonest.
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Stanzas seven and eight again like stanzas one and two, get at the unnaturalness of Slough. In stanza seven, he says –
“It’s not their fault they do not know,
The birdsong from the radio”.
There is sarcastic sympathy in this quotation. By using the phrase “it’s not their fault” it appears as if he feels sympathy for the people of Slough but we know this is not the case as his hate for Slough is so strong. He is saying that there is so little nature in Slough that the people there don’t know the difference between the radio and a birdsong – unnatural.
Stanza eight is more about the lack of respect for nature that the people of Slough have, it reads – “And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead”.
The fact that they don’t even notice the stars shows the lack of appreciation to nature (or the stars). This is enforced by how they belch instead.
Wordsworth was on the side of the peasants against the old English Monarchy. He lost his support for them after he saw their violent actions in the French Revolution. His support then went with his beloved country; we can see traces of his support for English royalty in throughout the whole poem. It is unusual for a Romantic to praise a city; we know that Wordsworth’s love for London comes from his respect and admiration for English Monarchy and Royalty. This came from his dislike towards the actions of the peasants.
Betjamen also links his stanzas through the rhyme scheme. The last word in each stanza rhymes with the last word in its pair. For example –
Stanza one – “Swarm over, Death!”
Stanza two – “Tinned minds, tinned breath.”
This is done to emphasise the linking of subject matter between the paired stanzas. The rhyme scheme is AAAB CCCB.
Wordsworth uses the rhyme scheme AB BA AB BA CD CD CD. This is another example of the how the first eight lines are separated from the last six lines – rhyme scheme. Wordsworth and Betjamen here have used the same method of linking subject matter and rhyme scheme. When the imagery in Wordsworth’s poem is changed from majestic to natural (after line eight), the rhyme scheme is changed from the use of A and B to CD.
The first line of ‘Slough’ starts in the imperative form, as it is a command –
“Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough”
This shows us that right from the start, Betjamen very feels strongly. He doesn’t contemplate discussion, we know this because of the imperative language used; he shows his hate for Slough from the first line.
This statement also contains an oxymoron – “friendly bombs”. This is an oxymoron, as the two words seem to contradict each other. Usually bombs are seen as harmful, perhaps unfriendly rather than friendly. Betjamen uses this oxymoron because he detests Slough so much; he is saying that they would be friendly if they bombed Slough, as it is such a terrible place. He also uses this to draw in the reader, as they will be intrigued by this apparent contradiction.
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Wordsworth starts with a superlative, declarative statement –
“Earth has not any thing to shew more fair”.
The declarative form used in this opening line is well worked, it makes it seem as if Wordsworth is laying down the laws. He declares to us that this place is the best place in the world, and then goes on to discuss why. He declares this by using the terms “not any thing” and “more fair”; Wordsworth is using the superlative form as he is saying that this place (London) is the best place in the world. This is a good opening line to poem as it makes the reader interested, they want to know where this place is and why is it the best. In this case, the title gives away where the place is but the reason for why it is the best is still to be exposed, so the reader reads on.
Wordsworth had sympathy for France but he lost this sympathy and exchanged it for an admiration for London, he praises it, as it is the capital city of his beloved country. He brings the royalty of the city into the poem –
“This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare”
The phase “garment wear” suggests that the piece of clothing is royal, perhaps a robe. This is an example of Wordsworth’s use of majestic imagery. He is saying that London is wearing the beauty of the morning; in other words, London is beautiful in the morning. This is typical of the language that would be used by a Romantic Poet like Wordsworth, as they believe nature is the place of purity.
‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ seems like a softhearted and majestic poem. We know this because of the sentimental words that he uses –
“Majesty” and “beauty” are both examples of these words. All these words describe London and tell of its flawless attributes. This shows Wordsworth’s approach and is a common approach among most Romantic poets, Wordsworth’s is significant though as it is written about Urbanity.
Betjamen’s approach is quite the opposite of Wordsworth’s. He uses words like –
“synthetic” and “bogus” which show his poem is based around complaint, significantly different to Wordsworth. He does this to put forward his points about Slough’s urbanity and the problems it creates. The writers use different tones but they use them to for the same reasons, to get their points across with maximum force.
These two poems are both structurally excellent and each one communicates its purpose well. Sir John Betjamen tells us of how Slough lacks experimentation and is unnatural in many ways. William Wordsworth notifies us of London’s sublime natural characteristics. These two poems are a great example of how similar viewpoints can be transmitted into opposites – a love, and a hate.
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