Analysing Attack and In Westminster Abbey- Comparing and Contrasting

Look again at Attack by Siegfried Sassoon and at In Westminster Abbey by John Betjeman, which both deal with the theme of war.
With close reference to the ways each poet uses language, compare and contrast what the speakers in the poems say about war. You should include relevant contextual material. Why poem do you prefer? Give your reasons.

“Attack” was written by Siegfried Sassoon subsequent to World War One. This poem deals with trench warfare during the War and how soldiers remembered their revulsion of the needless war just after it finished. Sassoon witnessed the war first hand and took part in many battles. He is telling is that death of his friend Major Robert Gregory. However, “In Westminster Abbey” has a very different background. IWA was written by John Betjeman, a man who has never been to war or witnessed it firsthand. It is set in wartime London during the Second World War and involves the satire of Upper-class attitudes to war.

Attack follows the story of an infantry attack during the First World War including dawn, artillery barrage, attack by tanks and finally infantry deployment. In Westminster Abbey reveals the thoughts of an upper-class woman and her selfishness, class and racial attitudes via a prayer to God asking him to kill the Germans.

There are also differences in the language and techniques used in both poems. Attack is written in the 3rd person and recounts a soldiers experience in battle. This is broken with a sudden 1st person prayer which occurs in the final line. Listing is used in the first line to represent the heavily burdened soldiers who are both physically and mentally drained. A caesural pause is obvious in the poem between the barrage and infantry attack. This pause gives a sense of timelessness and gives the effect of suspension in the battle. Americanisms and slang are obviously used to create the effect of realism, “Going over the top”.

The sense of suspension continues to the final four lines in which parallelism is also used to suggest that there final moments are being dragged out by their experience. “Time ticks blank but busy on their wrist” is a contrast itself as if the soldiers time is up but they still have to do their duty. This experience doesn’t end for the soldiers and they plead for it to do so. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of Iambic Pentameter.

In contrast to this In Westminster Abbey is a 1st person direct plea to God by an upper-class woman. The woman takes a condescending and complacent tone as if she is telling God what to do. This tone suggests she doesn’t turn to God often as she is hesitant at the start. The poem sounds like a prayer and uses a scheme which sounds heavenly like and suggests a hymn.

There is an evident contrast between the situation of War and the Woman’s safe lifestyle shows us the futility of the situation and how everyone turns to somebody at this time. The woman’s condescending tone continues into the fourth stanza in which she lists the Countries hallmarks and states her own interests and address. This shows us she thinks she can tell God to protect her.

There are few similarities in the tone and attitude of the speakers. Obviously both tones are worrying and are being said during heartbreaking wars. Also both speakers express a relationship with God in “Attack” the pilot pleas with God in the final line “O Jesus make it stop” and in “In Westminster Abbey” the woman says an entire prayer to God pleading with him to stop “the Germans”.

However there are also many differences. In Attack there is a feeling of danger for the pilot but in IWA there is a sense of safety even though she is praying for her life. In Attack the pilot makes an agonizing appeal to God just before his death but in IWA there is a patronizing attitude towards God and the reader thinks she is over him. The settings of the poems are opposites. In Attack there is a real sense of danger as it takes place in a plane during an aerial battle. A sense of worry and fret comes from this setting however in IWA it seems to be a Cathedral in a quiet night with no trouble or fighting.

In my opinion Attack is a better poem for both relaying the truth of War which was uncommon in the 20th Century and as it gives an interesting and remarkable insight into the life of a pilot during a battle. It uses brilliant imagery which allows you to imagine the scene in your head.

Advertisements