Beach Burial

– Kenneth Slessor Essay, Research Paper




Softly and Humbly to the Gulf of Arabs,The convoys of dead sailors come;

At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire Someone, it seems, has time for this,To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows

And tread the sand upon their nakedness;And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,Bears the last signature of men,Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,The words choke as they begin

Unknown seaman the ghostly pencil Wavers and fades, the purple drips,

The breath of the wet season has washed their inscriptions As blue as drowned men s lips,

Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,Whether as enemies they fought,

Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,Enlisted on the other front.

El Alamein.

Although not blatantly obvious at first, Kenneth Slessor s emotive and poignant poem Beach burial is a poem concerned with raising the awareness of national identity. Now I found this hard to believe at first For me to be able to use this poem, (as it has been my one of my favourites for years) I though that for it to have ANYTHING to do with national identity I would have had to use my creative ability to dissect and warp aspects of the poem that COULD have something to do with national identity if the poet had actually CHOSEN to write about national identity. Basically a lot of windbagging- and as much I was looking forward to see how great my powers of persuasion were I finally realised that they wouldn t be necessary. I realised that even though Slessor s Beach Burial doesn t ramble on about the Australian lifestyles and the Australian landscapes, It is a poem solely based on the importance of national identity heck- it doesn t even mention the word Australia in it! But what Slessor is trying to say here doesn t refer just to the Australian identity it refers to the importance of every countries national identity and, in the long run, the unimportance of it.

To give you a bit of a background, Kenneth Slessor was an eminent Australian Journalist for a great part of his life, and because of this, When World War 2 came around he was chosen be Australia s official war correspondent. He was to report on the Australian activities in the War and after it was all over he was to write the official history of those activities. He actually resigned in 1944 and never wrote this projected history, however the whole story is told in his diaries and dispatches which reveal an Australian patriotism which is partly genuine and partly came with the position.

In the poem beach burial Slessor writes with soft elusive words in a solemn, muted tone of quiet. He uses long descriptive sentences that are heavy and slow like the lifeless bodies that Slessor describes no rhyming gives it a cheerful or light-hearted quality and no abrupt sentences give any false impressions of life.

The sailors are dead and there are lots of them. Slessor s precise words are convoys of dead sailors , now, a convoy is defined as any group of vehicles travelling together and together is the key word here. All these dead bodys personified actions and feelings are the same. Using muted adjectives softly and humbly Slessor elucidates how reluctantly but obediently they all come to shore, giving up their contented dawdling of the night before that is depicted through imagery in the line At night they sway and wander in the waters far under .

In the sea they are happy because they have their freedom and are far away from the harsh reality of war on the land. As soon as the bodies come on the land the verbs become rougher and impersonal rolls and tread the personification of the bodies stops as soon as they are on land – now the bodies are inanimate objects.

Slessor relies on imagery to depict the scene on the beach. From the line between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire because the gunfire is described as heavy and muffled the reader deduces that the battle is not on the beach but not too far away. When we think of sobbing, we think of a heavy muffled noise but there is also the connotation of some one crying. When we think of clubbing, we not only think of harsh muffled gunshots, but also the connotation of the violent gesture of hitting something or someone with a heavy weapon. This is rather ironic because through these connotations Slessor personifies the guns as one that is being defeated (the one that is sobbing) whilst the other one is winning (the one that is clubbing)

Slessor continues with the impersonal reference to the bodies as they are plucked from the shallows and buried in burrows. He contrasts shallows with burrows as one might contrast light compared to dark, or escape compared to capture.

And each cross, the driven stake of tide-wood, bears the last signature of man. Each body is buried, ending each sailor s freedom, like a vampire that is staked through the heart, the driven stake ends the sailors immortality, and the signature confirms the finality of the sailors death; just like a death certificate. Written on the stake is unknown seaman the family will never know where their son is buried. The sailors that have died for their country are not given the honourable and noble burial that they deserve, instead they are buried on foreign ground, with a piece of driftwood for a headstone that doesn t even state their name. In the lines the ghostly pencil wavers and fades, the purple drips, the breath of the wet season has washed their inscription we learn that even the fact that the dead seamen served their country will disappear. The ink, compared in a simile to the colour of the drowned mens lips, has already started to waver, and because the tombstone is only a piece of driftwood, it can be assumed that that will also fall away.

In the last stanza, it is brought to the attention of the reader that the dead sailors that have been described in this poem have been from both sides of the war. The bodies were floating alongside enemies and allies, yet from the beginning of the poem Slessor made them all equal in death. As I pointed out earlier this can be seen in his reference to the dead sailors as convoys; groups of dead men that were travelling together with the same personified feelings and actions. World War 2 was, is in its simplest form, one nation against another nation, fighting for land, fighting to increase their national identity. For the expansion of their own national identity, humans were willing to kill other human beings. Just because of different national identities, the soldiers treated the enemy inhumanely.

the sand joins them together, Enlisted on the other front The land for which they fought, joins them together in death, the reference to enlisted on the other front is an eloquent metaphor for the sailors deaths. They are now enlisted into the world of the dead, just as they enlisted to join the navy. It is ironic that these men, so proud and patriotic of their national identity, have lost not only the record of which country they were serving but also their own identity.


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