Reading the poem Essay
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In his poem ‘Slough’ Betjeman uses a number of ways to put across his views. The title itself suggests he feels that ‘Slough’ is an appropriate title, that a poem on the place deserves no better or imaginative title than just its name because the place is dull and unimaginative also, or that ‘Slough’ says it all already.
The first line of the first stanza means you immediately know what he thinks, his opinion being straight to the point, asking ‘Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough’ which is a good use of juxtaposition as bombs are never seen as friendly, but in this case they would be if they bombed Slough as they would be doing him a favour.
Asking for bombs to fall on Slough is an outrageous, extreme demand which he repeats in the second stanza and in the final stanza to reinforce his plea, and he also uses other extreme terms such as the people have Slough having ‘tasted Hell’ which shows clear dislike.
He is very flippant about asking the bombs to blow Slough ‘to smithereens’ as if he wants no part of it left and it’s a reasonable demand. Betjeman’s phrases such as ‘It’s not their fault that they are mad’, ‘they do not know’ and ‘they often go’ makes it sound like he feels the people of Slough are alienated and are very different to himself, as if they were another species altogether, calling them ‘they’, disassociating them from himself, and being patronising about their lives.
He also conveys his attitude of Slough by describing what he thinks of the people that live there such as the ‘man with the double chin’ who will ‘always cheat and always win’ and who he also refers to as a ‘stinking cad’. He is not complimentary about the people of Slough, like the wives with ‘peroxide hair’ and the men who sit in ‘bogus Tudor bars’ with nothing better to do. His descriptions of the people help explain why he dislikes Slough, and he is saying that it may be the people who live there that help to make it a bad place, so this is a view he has of Slough.
But he also pities the people , saying ‘it’s not their fault’ so I think he is unsure himself whether it is the people making Slough a terrible place, or Slough making the people terrible. Either way, he subtly ridicules the people of Slough and their ways of life as he feels the wives sit and paint their nails’ and the men talk of cars and’belch’. Betjeman makes use of repetition such as the first line ‘Come, friendly bombs’ and, in the second stanza’ ‘Tinned fruit, tinned meat…
As repetition is a way of reinforcing and strengthening a statement or opinion. Making everything from the food to the minds and breath tinned makes it sound like the people of Slough are all the same and are dull and lifeless. He also uses alliteration in the form of ‘cabbages are coming’ and ‘grass to graze’ which help the lines to flow easily. He uses negative words clusters such as ‘Hell’, ‘repulsive’, ‘stinking’ and ‘dirty’ which show his view of Slough with strong words that appeal to the senses and the imagination of the reader.
The tone of the poem is one of dislike, where Betjeman cares so little for Slough that he would cheerfully see it bombed and destroyed. This is a strong image because it must take extreme dislike for someone to want something bombed. The rhyme scheme of the poem also reveals his views because the pattern is AAAB so the first three lines of each stanza flow easily and quickly, and rhyme so the poem seems almost cheerful and happy.
But the last line of each stanza is used to put across his point in a harsh phrase such as ‘They’ve tasted Hell’ and ‘Swarm over, Death! ‘ which brings the flowing stanza to an abrupt, harsher sounder end like ‘death’, ‘tears’, ‘Hell’ and ‘yell’. The majority of the stanzas finish at the end of a sentence and this is used to make strong end statements, then the next stanza will begin again in the slightly humorous tone, ridiculing Slough.
The rhythm of the first three lines of each stanza is fast and light, but the rhythm is broken by the abrupt end of each stanza which breaks up the flow to remind the reader of what Slough is like. The rhythm of the poem is also Iambic Pentameter which means that Betjeman has used this to make the stresses of each line land on important words such as ‘bombs’, ‘blow’ and ‘mess’ so these words are emphasised when reading the poem, and stand out so they are noticed more.
Betjeman uses certain phrases to imply that Slough is a fake, manufactured place because of the ‘air-conditioned, bright canteens’, the ‘bogus Tudor bars’ and the ‘synthetic air’. He seems to hate the fact that Slough is a place that has been built up with ‘labour-saving homes’ and has ruined the land so much that ‘There isn’t grass to graze a cow’ meaning they have built over all the land and ruined the landscape.
In the final stanza, he wants to bomb Slough again so that it can be turned back into a nice place again where they can grow food and make use of the land, rather than wasting it like it is being misused now. He claims the people are false and materialistic as they do not know the ‘birdsong from the radio’ and ‘daren’t look up and see the stars’ because birdsong and stars are two of the beauties of nature that the people of Slough couldn’t possibly appreciate, in Betjeman’s opinion.
Betjeman uses irony in his poem as he describes the ‘polished oak’ desk belonging to the ‘man with double chin’ and I think Betjeman has mentioned this because he feels that the land that was there before, has now been destroyed, with the trees all being cut down to make room for the buildings, and as if this wasn’t bad enough, the trees have been used to make the desks for the people who are responsible for ruining Slough which he sees as sadly ironic.
One of Betjeman’s key phrases is ‘It isn’t fit for humans now’ which is a strong statement about the state of the place but also the use of the word ‘now’ at the end suggests how he feels Slough was not always like this and it has slowly been ruined over the years. In this way, I think the poem is tinged with sadness as he feels it has been ruined to the point where there is no way to solve it but to destroy it which is a very emotive, strong view. I think you can sum up Betjeman’s view of Slough by the line repeated at the beginning and end of the poem ‘Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough’.