”The gulls go down the body dies and rots, and time flows past them like the hundred yachts.” Kenneth Slessor, a renowned poet and journalist was born on the 27th of March 1901 in Orange, New South Wales. Throughout his eventful life, Slessor was able to compose an array of poems through which he was able to convey his experiences through life. But why exactly are his poems still considered so relevant and significant in this era? Firstly, Slessor’s poems were widely recognised for their ability to accurately depict his understanding of humanity, life, death and change.
Across his oeuvre he conveys a unique yet consistent view of the meaning of life and death. He presents this through the use of poetic techniques such as metaphors, repetition, similes and alliteration which are evident through all of his poems. Good morning/afternoon Mr Younes and Yr. 12.
The poems “Out of Time” and “Beach Burial” are both compositions of Slessor’s later work that are considered memorable and influential by many of his critics.
They are said to reveal his interaction with the environment and clearly depict his immediate emotions. I am sure that you will all agree that Slessor’s work is significant in today’s era because of his ability to cleverly and creatively use features to inter-relate the true essence of his poems. The poem ‘Out of time’ vividly initiates the essence of life and humanity as being primarily dominated and controlled by Time. Many critical analysis of Slessor’s work convey that his perception of time is that of a mystery, something that cannot be clearly defined and comprehended. His personal connection with time is deluded with the fact that it can be both a destructive force and a pleasure found in a moment.
The adamant and unstoppable nature of time; causes it to solely control and thus highlight the vulnerability of the human existence. As observed in the first sonnet the destructive nature of time is expressed through the lines “Or time, the bony knife, it runs me through…time takes me, drills me, drives through bone and vein.” Metaphorically, time is referred to as a knife which is usually related with the feelings of betrayal and deceit. Thus, Slessor finds that time is a masked identity victimising humanity the ‘faceless host’ and moving on without hesitation or remorse. Similarly, Slessor’s experience as a war correspondent in El Alamein observing “…Convoys of dead soldiers” rolling to shore led to the inspiration of composing the elegy ‘Beach Burial.’
He explores the nature of time and the unfortunate occurrence of war. The intense and futile nature of war educates Slessor to conclude that time is the conqueror that withholds the universal fate of death. Have you ever felt invisible in a crowded area? Well, this is precisely what Slessor conveys death to be like. Death is commonly interpreted as the termination of life, a force that has an eternal end. Once our time is up we have no link to this world but are rather taken up to the “Other front.” Slessor clearly states that once death has its grasp, humanity will lose its identity as they will eventually be lost in a memory taken by time. This is reinforced in “Beach Burial” in the lines “Unknown seaman- the ghostly pencil wavers and fades…the wet season has washed their inscriptions…”
The styles of Slessor’s poems are unique yet there is still a relative consistency evident throughout his oeuvre. In the poem “Out of Time” Slessor presents the poem in a cyclical pattern that imitates the nature of time. The last line of each sonnet is the beginning line of the next thus indicating a link throughout the poem. Slessor makes this style distinctive by beginning the poem with “I saw Time flowing like the hundred yachts” and ending with “And Time flows past them like a hundred Yachts.” Wouldn’t you agree that his use of repetition and personification of time clearly expresses the main value of this poem? Through these techniques Slessor cleverly portrays that time is a continuous force that will never come to an end but will always have its command over humanities life.
On the contrary, the style of the poem “Beach Burial” is that of an elegy. By presenting his poem in this style, Slessor conveys the empathy that he felt as a result of his experience in El Alamein. The use of onomatopoeic reference “…The sob and clubbing of gunfire…” accurately depicts the futility and harsh nature of war. He then primarily expresses that death has the last say because in the end all of humanity will ultimately be untied by death through fate. This is portrayed in the line “Whether as enemies they fought…the sand joins them together.” A common technique that I am sure you all are aware off is that of water imagery. Water like time is a vast force that is eternal in nature, its ability to be both rough and calm precisely reflects the nature of time and the gloominess of death. The imagery of water is commonly used throughout Slessor’s oeuvre.
It is reinforced in the stanzas of ‘Out of Time’ in the lines “So time, the wave, enfolds me in its bed….water bends…the tide goes over.” And in “Beach Burial” in the lines “…They sway and wander in the waters far under…” As you may have noticed, the structural integrity of Slessor’s work can be seen as a solid representation of the values that he so intricately portrays. Both “Out of Time” and “Beach Burial” are composed with completely different structures yet still effectively portray the values of each poem. Composed of an ensemble of three quatrains and a couplet forming a sonnet, “Out of Time” is characterised by three sonnets. In each of these sonnets Slessor expresses a different aspect of time, linking them together to form a poem that is similar to that of an anecdote.
However, the irregularity of the lines in “Beach Burial” mimics the movement of waves creating an atmosphere and mood that is both solemn and humble. Don’t you agree that this creative use of imagery precisely delineates the depth of Slessor’s emotions? Hopefully I have given you a thorough insight as to why Slessor’s poems are still relevant and significant today. It is evident to see that the themes and values that he expresses through his poems are off a universal significance and his ability to convey them through poetic devices accurately depicts the central notions of his poems. Thus, readers such as us and even critics are able to relate and recognise the articulate nature of his work and for this reason Slessor’s work will continue to be of a great significance.