Beach Burial – Kenneth Slessor 1944 Kenneth Slessor, author of Beach Burial, was the Australian Official Correspondent in El Alamein, the Middle East during WWII. The author drew from his own experiences to write Beach Burial, a poem about the aftermath of a battle during WWII. It is a realistic and somber tribute to soldiers of all nations that died in the war. It illustrates how they are all united by one common enemy; death. It breaks the conventional war poem structure, as it is not a celebration of heroes, and shows no nationalistic or patriotic devotion.
Instead, Kenneth Slessor has written about how soldiers lose their identity in war. He has chosen to start the poem lulling the readers into a false sense of calm, and by understating the calamity, we slowly realize he is talking about the dead soldiers, whether it be allies or enemies, being united. In Beach Burial, the author stresses the importance of all the soldiers being one, with them losing their identity during war, and them being joined together after death.
‘The convoys of dead sailors come’ imply a repetitiveness and routine in the deaths, where he has dehumanizing them through the blunt language. The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions/As blue as browned men’s lips,’. Through his descriptive language and simile, he has illustrated the soldiers washed away, and that their tombstones have no writing on them anymore, making them anonymous. ‘Whether as enemies they fought,/Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,’ demonstrates that the men buried in the sands are not only anonymous but are ‘joined together’ by the sand, whether they were friends or foes.
‘”Unknown seaman” – the ghostly pencil wavers and fades’ gives anonymity, and the word ‘ghostly’ echoes the deaths.
It shows that the pencil is indelible, and that although their bodies will decay, they won’t be forgotten because they shall live on through the writing. Slessor utilizes a variety of literary devices and techniques to create a subdued tone. Long, slow, soft sounds (softly, humbly, convoys, sway, wander, rolls, foam) create a melancholy and passive tone. Sibilance in the next stanza of ‘sob, someone and seem’ supports this ambience, as well as the alliteration of soft sounds and internal rhyme of the words ‘shallows’ and ‘burrows’.
The rhyme structure (ABCB) and the use of enjambment create a free flowing poem that suggests that it is very natural, similar to the sea. Phrases like ‘sway and wander’ and ‘wavers and fades’ also recreate the waves of the sea, setting the scene of the battleground. The author has incorporated a variety of symbols and imagery to add depth to the poem, writing a more thoughtful tribute. There is irony in the title ‘Beach Burial’ as the beach is usually associated with fun and enjoyable memories, not devastating ones.
The word ‘nakedness’ in ‘And tread the sand upon their nakedness;’ depicts the soldiers as being exposed to the elements and therefore vulnerable. “And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood. ‘ The cross is a symbol of Christ’s suffering and pain of war, and the stake represents destruction and evil. ‘Purple drips’ signifies royalty, suggesting that these men should be treated like kings after the service they’ve put into their country. Kenneth Slessor has produced a solemn and sincere poem to soldiers that died at war during WWII. He has conveyed the unity between soldiers of all nations through literary devices and techniques.