Kenneth Slessor (1901-1971)
Slessor’s background is that of a journalist and war correspondent, though he found himself turning to poetry throughout World War II. Born in Orange, New South Wales, Australia in 1901, he contributed to the Bulletin literary magazine while still in school. From 1920-1925 he wrote for the Melbourne Punch and Melbourne Herald. In 1927 he moved to Sydney to work on Smith’s Weekly, a position he held until 1939. At the out break of war he was appointed as an Australian war correspondent and spent time in New Guinea, England, Greece, and the Middle East. Following the war he worked for the Sydney Sun and was the editor of the literary magazine, Southerly from 1956-61. He died in 1971.
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 gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon the 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 wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men's lips,
Dead seaman, 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.