Beach Burial



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