Slessor’s compact oeuvre details his struggle with time. However, his longing to be out of time merely highlights the supremacy of time over human life and nature. Slessor utilises familiar elements in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what he cannot comprehend. Moments captured out of time are short-lived illusions, though despite their brevity Slessor believes they are beautiful. In Out of Time, the first two stanzas in the third sonnet are Slessor’s illusions of a moment captured in ‘the sweet meniscus of time’.
This moment is captured as Slessor remains ‘with the golden undertow’, moving against time for a brief moment. In this moment out of time Slessor observes a scene, which defies not only time but also other conventions such as gravity as the gulls rise ‘backward’. Slessor’s language in these stanzas (‘golden’, ‘sweet’ and ‘bubbled’) are contrasted against the harsh words (‘stabbed’, ‘pale’ and ‘faceless’) through the remainder of the poem and show through contrast Slessor’s awe at the beauty of the ‘moment’s world’.
However Slessor is taken back to reality at the end of the third stanza by ‘the suck of sea’. When Slessor is ‘Out of time’ his disobeying time which has power even over nature. Consequently, under the instruction of time, the sea brings Slessor back to the constraints of time and reality as it continues its relentless pursuit of fate. In Five Bells Slessor struggles to comprehend the death of his friend: Joe Lynch. At the beginning Slessor is under the illusion that he may be able to ‘hear the voice’ of the ‘dead man’ despite the impenetrable ‘pygmy strait’ that he knows exists between life and death.
Slessor is frustrated that Joe is trapped in a flood of time and that he himself is taken away by time, leaving Joe ‘anchored’. Despite this knowledge Slessor employs illusions and imagery as he tries to break the constraints of time and reach his friend. The first illusion is that of Joe ‘beating at the ports of space’, ‘bawling’ and ‘crying out [his] name’. This is Slessor trying to imagine what is beyond death. The second illusion is Joe trapped at the bottom of the sea as the ‘wet presses it’s dark thumb balls in’ and the ‘sea pinks’ growing between Joe’s teeth.
Despite these attempts to bring Joe back to life so Slessor can ‘hear his voice’, Slessor is unable to be out of time and reanimate his friend. Rather all he hears is ‘bells, five bells coldly ringing out’, bringing Slessor back to reality. Slessor very effectively utilises illusions and strong imagery in an attempt to break the constraints of time in order to capture a moment or remember a loved one. However, inevitably Slessor is forced back to reality by the power and necessity of time and it’s relentless nature.
Time is continuous; its relentless nature causes Slessor to leave memory behind as he is swept up in the ever-continuing tide. Out fo Time is structured as a poem composed of 3 linked sonnets, the first sonnet ends with ‘the golden undertow’ and the second begins with ‘the golden undertow’. This linkage is consistent throughout the remainder of the poem, with the last line of the last sonnet linking to the ‘yachts’ in the opening line of the first sonnet.
This structure very effectively portrays Slessor’s belief that time is relentless as it continues onwards. Similarly, Slessor has used Iambic pentameter throughout the poem so that it is read consistently. This creates a measured rhythm and a sense of urgency that portrays time is measured and hurried. It is for this reason Slessor is unable to remain ‘out of time’ as we must obey time and time must continue in its pursuit of fate.
Though Dutton claims of Five Bells, ‘the time of this poem is quite different to the time of all the others’ Slessor still discusses the continuous nature of time in this poem. He describes time as ‘moved by little fidget wheels’ consistent with Out of Time in its suggestion that time is measured. Slessor utilises the sea to comment on times continuous nature. This is appropriate as Slessor is very familiar with the Harbour and water and using this element helps him and his readers to grasp a better understanding of the incomprehensible.
Joe and those dead are described in a metaphor of weed, as Slessor suggest ‘time bends the weed’ continuing on, whilst leaving Joe and the weed in it’s wake. Similarly, he states the ‘tide is over you’ and ‘the waves go over you’, using the constancy of a waters tide to effectively portray times continuous nature. Slessor effectively conveys his longing to be ‘out of time’ through his poetry. Although in exploring this using illusion he realises the continuous nature of time means that one cannot remain out of time for long periods of time.
Courtney from Study Moose
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