The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast the two poems ‘Slough’ and ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’. I shall be focusing on the structure, language, cultural contexts and the historical and social influences on the poems.
William Wordsworth wrote ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ on September 3rd 1802. Wordsworth expresses his inspiration about London where people were free from tyranny and oppression, and Wordsworth reflects upon this with enthusiasm and admiration. He was a romantic poet and looking at London restored in the goodness of mankind, which he witnessed and translated his faith into this beautiful poem.
I found an extract of Dorothy Wordsworth’s (William Wordsworth’s Wife) journal, which she had written on July 31st 1802. Dorothy described the scene as she and her brother left London and headed for Calais early that morning. Dorothy wrote, “It was a beautiful morning. The city St Paul’s with the river and a multitude of little boats made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke, and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light; that there was something like the purity of one of nature’s own grand spectacles”. This poem is partly what inspired Wordsworth
John Betjeman wrote Slough in 1936. Betjeman too described his surroundings, which were set in a suburb of London. The difference was that Bateman described his surroundings in a horrible way. The poem Bateman wrote is a critical view of what he saw through his own eyes of how society was developing in all classes, and the effects that the First World War had upon society in general.
‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’ is a patriarchal sonnet which consists of fourteen lines and has a set rhyme scheme of a, b, a, b, b, a, c, d, c, d, c, d. The first eight lines of the poem are called an octet. This breaks down the rhyme. The last six lines of the poem are called a sestet. The rhythm that this poem uses is very regular and has an iambic pentameter. This makes the poem lyrical and much easier to read. The way that Wordsworth uses this throughout the poem adds to the feeling of control, balance and predictability. The rhyme scheme he uses works very well and is very effective.
‘Slough’ in contrast is made up of four line stanzas in pairs. The rhyming scheme used is a,a,a,b,c,c,c,b,d,d,d,e,f,f,f,e. The last line of each pair of stanzas rhyme. This has the effect of flowing onto the next stanza. And soon the first three rhymes set the movement and lyrical quality of each stanza as in ‘Slough’ “now” and “cow”. But the last line ends on “death”. The structure that I prefer is the structure used for ‘Slough’. I prefer this because it stays on one level until the very last beat of every line, which then is changed quickly. I particularly liked the way the first word of each stanza is emphasised. It is a negative word like “hell” and “tears”.
The language that William Wordsworth uses consists of clever imagery. An example of this is used in his first line: ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair:’ this line shows that there was nothing that could of compared to London. On Earth it was more beautiful than anything else. This is an example of my hyperbole. Another example that he uses is: Never did the sun more beautifully steep’. By this Wordsworth means that at no other time had he seen the sunset rise as beautiful as it was. He also uses assonance. He uses this on his second and third line where he writes; Dull would be of soul who could pass by. This repeating of ‘o’ and ‘u’ help to give the lines a soft, calm feel. It appears the people’s lives are artificial and man-made. The way he describes the city as though it was a garment is the use of personification. He gives the city a human quality of looking glamorous. ‘This city now doth like a garment wear’. He includes the metaphor ‘a sight so touching in its majesty;’ which makes the scene sound as if it were royal or blessed by God. He is saying the city is the King of all cities. I also like the metaphor he used at the end of the poem, ‘Heart,’ to show that he saw the city as a living thing. He says the ‘very houses seem asleep’ to emphasise this idea.
I can’t imagine what London was like when Wordsworth described it. He said it was ‘open into the fields and sky’, and that the air was ‘smokeless’ he must have been a real romantic to not have noticed the poverty and dirt.
The language of Slough is very different. The opening sentence of ‘Slough’ draws the reader’s attention as it says ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough’. This is a bit paradoxical as bombs are far from ‘friendly’. He uses repetition too, to get his point across. ‘Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned beans, tinned minds, tinned breath. The last two in the list are metaphors and are used to show that man is trapped in his environment. ‘This environment isn’t fit for humans now’ and ‘there isn’t grass to graze a cow’. It appears the people’s lives are artificial and man-made.
Through reading the text I got given the impression that his attitude was very bitter and condemning. An example of his bitterness is ‘Mess up the mess they call a town.’ This is bitter because he thinks that Slough should be destroyed. The verse ‘And get that man with double chin, who’ll always cheat and always win, who washes his repulsive skin, in women’s tears’ is very aggressive as it is about men who over indulge in the comforts of their wealth and abuse their wealthy status to manipulate the members of the under privileged in the society who look to him for comfort. Betjeman uses his words effectively to express his hatred for Slough. He says the ordinary workers; ‘the bald young clerks’ have ‘tasted hell’. The ideas of artificial lives is cont6inued in his description of the peoples lives. They drink in ‘Bogus’ Tudor bars; they have ‘peroxide hair’ and they ‘paint their nails’.
I preferred ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ rather than ‘Slough’ as I found that the poem was very calming and tranquil. It was short, easy to read and easy to understand. The ways that Wordsworth described the place made the poem shine because it was made to sound really peaceful and beautiful. I was able to create a vision of a place that seemed non-existent, or far out of our reach, but Wordsworth really captures the beauty.