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Best Famous Kenneth Slessor Poems

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by Kenneth Slessor |

William Street

 The red globe of light, the liquor green, 
the pulsing arrows and the running fire 
spilt on the stones, go deeper than a stream; 
You find this ugly, I find it lovely 

Ghosts' trousers, like the dangle of hung men, 
in pawn-shop windows, bumping knee by knee, 
but none inside to suffer or condemn; 
You find this ugly, I find it lovely. 

Smells rich and rasping, smoke and fat and fish 
and puffs of paraffin that crimp the nose, 
of grease that blesses onions with a hiss; 
You find it ugly, I find it lovely. 

The dips and molls, with flip and shiny gaze 
(death at their elbows, hunger at their heels) 
Ranging the pavements of their pasturage; 
You Find this ugly, I find it lovely .


by Kenneth Slessor |

Thief of the Moon

 Thief of the moon, thou robber of old delight, 
Thy charms have stolen the star-gold, quenched the moon- 
Cold, cold are the birds that, bubbling out of night, 
Cried once to my ears their unremembered tune- 
Dark are those orchards, their leaves no longer shine, 
No orange's gold is globed like moonrise there- 
O thief of the earth's old loveliness, once mine, 
Why dost thou waste all beauty to make thee fair? 

Break, break thy strings, thou lutanists of earth, 
Thy musics touch me not-let midnight cover 
With pitchy seas those leaves of orange and lime, 
I'll not repent. The world's no longer worth 
One smile from thee, dear pirate of place and time, 
Thief of old loves that haunted once thy lover!


by Kenneth Slessor |

South Country

 After the whey-faced anonymity 
Of river-gums and scribbly-gums and bush, 
After the rubbing and the hit of brush, 
You come to the South Country 
As if the argument of trees were done, 
The doubts and quarrelling, the plots and pains, 
All ended by these clear and gliding planes 
Like an abrupt solution. 

And over the flat earth of empty farms 
The monstrous continent of air floats back 
Coloured with rotting sunlight and the black, 
Bruised flesh of thunderstorms: 

Air arched, enormous, pounding the bony ridge, 
Ditches and hutches, with a drench of light, 
So huge, from such infinities of height, 
You walk on the sky's beach 

While even the dwindled hills are small and bare, 
As if, rebellious, buried, pitiful, 
Something below pushed up a knob of skull, 
Feeling its way to air.


by Kenneth Slessor |

North Country

 North Country, filled with gesturing wood, 
With trees that fence, like archers' volleys, 
The flanks of hidden valleys 
Where nothing's left to hide 

But verticals and perpendiculars, 
Like rain gone wooden, fixed in falling, 
Or fingers blindly feeling 
For what nobody cares; 

Or trunks of pewter, bangled by greedy death, 
Stuck with black staghorns, quietly sucking, 
And trees whose boughs go seeking, 
And tress like broken teeth 

With smoky antlers broken in the sky; 
Or trunks that lie grotesquely rigid, 
Like bodies blank and wretched 
After a fool's battue, 

As if they've secret ways of dying here 
And secret places for their anguish 
When boughs at last relinquish 
Their clench of blowing air 

But this gaunt country, filled with mills and saws, 
With butter-works and railway-stations 
And public institutions, 
And scornful rumps of cows, 

North Country, filled with gesturing wood– 
Timber's the end it gives to branches, 
Cut off in cubic inches, 
Dripping red with blood.


by Kenneth Slessor |

Mangroves

 These black bush-waters, heavy with crusted boughs 
Like plumes above dead captains, wake the mind.... 
Uncounted kissing, unremembered vows, 
Nights long forgotten, moons too dark to find, 
Or stars too cold...all quick things that have fled 
Whilst these old bubbles uprise in older stone, 
Return like pale dead faces of children dead, 
Staring unfelt through doors for ever unknown. 

O silent ones that drink these timeless pools, 
Eternal brothers, bending so deeply over, 
Your branches tremble above my tears again... 
And even my songs are stolen from some old lover 
Who cried beneath your leaves like other fools, 
While still they whisper "in vain...in vain...in vain..."


by Kenneth Slessor |

Five Bells

 Time that is moved by little fidget wheels 
Is not my time, the flood that does not flow. 
Between the double and the single bell 
Of a ship's hour, between a round of bells 
From the dark warship riding there below, 
I have lived many lives, and this one life 
Of Joe, long dead, who lives between five bells. 

Deep and dissolving verticals of light 
Ferry the falls of moonshine down. Five bells 
Coldly rung out in a machine's voice. Night and water 
Pour to one rip of darkness, the Harbour floats 
In the air, the Cross hangs upside-down in water. 

Why do I think of you, dead man, why thieve 
These profitless lodgings from the flukes of thought 
Anchored in Time? You have gone from earth, 
Gone even from the meaning of a name; 
Yet something's there, yet something forms its lips 
And hits and cries against the ports of space, 
Beating their sides to make its fury heard. 

Are you shouting at me, dead man, squeezing your face 
In agonies of speech on speechless panes? 
Cry louder, beat the windows, bawl your name! 

But I hear nothing, nothing...only bells, 
Five bells, the bumpkin calculus of Time. 
Your echoes die, your voice is dowsed by Life, 
There's not a mouth can fly the pygmy strait - 
Nothing except the memory of some bones 
Long shoved away, and sucked away, in mud; 
And unimportant things you might have done, 
Or once I thought you did; but you forgot, 
And all have now forgotten - looks and words 
And slops of beer; your coat with buttons off, 
Your gaunt chin and pricked eye, and raging tales 
Of Irish kings and English perfidy, 
And dirtier perfidy of publicans 
Groaning to God from Darlinghurst. 
Five bells. 

Then I saw the road, I heard the thunder 
Tumble, and felt the talons of the rain 
The night we came to Moorebank in slab-dark, 
So dark you bore no body, had no face, 
But a sheer voice that rattled out of air 
(As now you'd cry if I could break the glass), 
A voice that spoke beside me in the bush, 
Loud for a breath or bitten off by wind, 
Of Milton, melons, and the Rights of Man, 
And blowing flutes, and how Tahitian girls 
Are brown and angry-tongued, and Sydney girls 
Are white and angry-tongued, or so you'd found. 
But all I heard was words that didn't join 
So Milton became melons, melons girls, 
And fifty mouths, it seemed, were out that night, 
And in each tree an Ear was bending down, 
Or something that had just run, gone behind the grass, 
When blank and bone-white, like a maniac's thought, 
The naphtha-flash of lightning slit the sky, 
Knifing the dark with deathly photographs. 
There's not so many with so poor a purse 
Or fierce a need, must fare by night like that, 
Five miles in darkness on a country track, 
But when you do, that's what you think. 
Five bells. 

In Melbourne, your appetite had gone, 
Your angers too; they had been leeched away 
By the soft archery of summer rains 
And the sponge-paws of wetness, the slow damp 
That stuck the leaves of living, snailed the mind, 
And showed your bones, that had been sharp with rage, 
The sodden ectasies of rectitude. 
I thought of what you'd written in faint ink, 
Your journal with the sawn-off lock, that stayed behind 
With other things you left, all without use, 
All without meaning now, except a sign 
That someone had been living who now was dead: 
"At Labassa. Room 6 x 8 
On top of the tower; because of this, very dark 
And cold in winter. Everything has been stowed 
Into this room - 500 books all shapes 
And colours, dealt across the floor 
And over sills and on the laps of chairs; 
Guns, photoes of many differant things 
And differant curioes that I obtained..." 

In Sydney, by the spent aquarium-flare 
Of penny gaslight on pink wallpaper, 
We argued about blowing up the world, 
But you were living backward, so each night 
You crept a moment closer to the breast, 
And they were living, all of them, those frames 
And shapes of flesh that had perplexed your youth, 
And most your father, the old man gone blind, 
With fingers always round a fiddle's neck, 
That graveyard mason whose fair monuments 
And tablets cut with dreams of piety 
Rest on the bosoms of a thousand men 
Staked bone by bone, in quiet astonishment 
At cargoes they had never thought to bear, 
These funeral-cakes of sweet and sculptured stone. 

Where have you gone? The tide is over you, 
The turn of midnight water's over you, 
As Time is over you, and mystery, 
And memory, the flood that does not flow. 
You have no suburb, like those easier dead 
In private berths of dissolution laid - 
The tide goes over, the waves ride over you 
And let their shadows down like shining hair, 
But they are Water; and the sea-pinks bend 
Like lilies in your teeth, but they are Weed; 
And you are only part of an Idea. 
I felt the wet push its black thumb-balls in, 
The night you died, I felt your eardrums crack, 
And the short agony, the longer dream, 
The Nothing that was neither long nor short; 
But I was bound, and could not go that way, 
But I was blind, and could not feel your hand. 
If I could find an answer, could only find 
Your meaning, or could say why you were here 
Who now are gone, what purpose gave you breath 
Or seized it back, might I not hear your voice? 

I looked out my window in the dark 
At waves with diamond quills and combs of light 
That arched their mackerel-backs and smacked the sand 
In the moon's drench, that straight enormous glaze, 
And ships far off asleep, and Harbour-buoys 
Tossing their fireballs wearily each to each, 
And tried to hear your voice, but all I heard 
Was a boat's whistle, and the scraping squeal 
Of seabirds' voices far away, and bells, 
Five bells. Five bells coldly ringing out. 
Five bells.