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The Pylons, The Express, Slough and The Wiper

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After analysing the poems The Pylons, The Express, Slough and The Wiper written by Stephen Spender, John Betjeman and Louis MacNeice (respectively), a clear picture of poetry in the 1930s was formed in my mind. All four poems speak of new inventions in the industrial sector, each in their own, way, but all referring back to the general industrialization of the 30s.

Even though they all discuss roughly the same theme, they do not all discuss it in the same way, some welcome the change, some are ambiguous about it and some merely use the new technology as a metaphor for bigger things. Among the poems that do not clearly state if they agree with the new industrialization, is The Pylons by Stephen Spender. In his poem, Spender describes how the world is being changed, how nature and the country-side are being destroyed but he does not put it in a completely negative sense, in some parts of the poem he mentions that the electricity pylons and skyscrapers have a beauty of their own. Spender divides his poem in three sections, past (first stanza), present (second and third stanzas) and future (fifth stanza), the fourth stanza is a link between how the world has already been changed and how more changes are still to come. This poem is particularly interesting because of its ambiguity, even thought Spender fondly describes the countryside, he does not seem to have a problem with electricity pylons taking over it.

Spender’s second poem, The Express, on the other hand is completely positive about new inventions, it describes a train’s journey and how beautiful the train is, the train is more beautiful then nature, it is described as the most beautiful thing poetry has ever been written about. This poem is particularly interesting because it clearly personifies the new style of poetry that was being written at the time, no longer poems had to be deep and meaningful, no longer were poems being written about love and inner confusion, in this poem the poet clearly states: “Trains are Poetry!”

In The Wiper by Louis MacNeice uses roads as a metaphor for life, he ponders where is this road taking him. This poem relates to The Express in the sense that they both are about figures of their time, the train in The Express and a car in The Wiper. The difference is that in The Wiper, the car is a metaphor, in reality it is a universal poem about the meaning of life and will the road be sunnier on the other side. It is interesting to note that such a common thing as a road has triggered such intense thoughts on the poet, that could possibly be a negative response to the changes going on and the age the poet is living in.

The last poem, Slough by John Betjeman, is the only one which criticises the modernisation. It is a comic criticism, written in a mock-serious tone about how this general industrialization is transforming little towns and villages in decadent, stereotypical, ugly working towns, with miserable, ugly working people living in them. This is the only poem out of the four that has a regular rhythm and a regular rime scheme, this only adds to the comic tone and criticism.

Generally, all four poems seem to be deeply influenced by the changes going on around them and it is clear that this modernization of the industry affected the arts. Generally the modernization is well accepted, using these four poems as a source, and it seems fascinating for the poets that this modern things are finally becoming part of their everyday life, its actually amusing to read these poems today and see how deep a reaction something as simple as a train caused on the people of the time.

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