What is the summary and analysis of the poem "Slough" by John Betjeman?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem "Slough" by John Betjeman is a tale of disdain for a town in England called Slough (pronounced sl-ow, as in cow), on A4 above Colinbrook with Poyle. Betjemin devotes ten stanzas of quatrain to how do I hate thee, Slough, let me count the ways.

The quatrains are constructed with an unconventional AAAB rhyme scheme (Lines 2 and 4 don't rhyme) instead of the conventional rhyme between Lines 2 and 4 and (optionally) Lines 1 and 3. The poem is in iambic (unstressed, stressed) tetrameter (four feet of iambs) except for the unrhymed last lines in iambic dimeter (two feet of iambs).

Betjemin desires the village of Slough to be blasted by bombs that will take every grocery and breath from the place and "mess" up the mess of a town where you can buy cheap houses.

He also adjures the bomb to get the guy, whose very skin is repulsive, who bathes "In women's tears," admonishing the bomb to wipe out his desk and dirty jokes with pain. He pleads, though, that the bomb spare the "bald clerks" who toiled for this jerk with "double chin" and added money to his till, saying that "It's not their fault they do not know / The birdsong from the radio." It's also not their fault, he continues, that they "daren't look up and see the stars."

He pities these clerks who, in their ignorance, have wives in "labor-saving homes" who "frizz out peroxide hair / And dry it in synthetic air / And paint their nails." He ends by imploring the bomb to ready Slough for the "plough" so that "double chin" despoilers and "labor-saving" houses can be replaced by cabbages. Evidently, the bombs have heard Betjemin's plea (at least in his poetic imagination) because the last lines say the Earth breathes and "The cabbages are coming now."

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