Kenneth Slessor Five Bells Essaytyper

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.

Kenneth Slessor

This article is about the Kenneth Slessor poem. For other uses, see Five Bells (disambiguation).

by Kenneth Slessor
First published inFive Bells : XX Poems
Publication date1939

"Five Bells" (1939) is a meditative poem by Australian poet Kenneth Slessor. It was originally published as the title poem in the author's collection Five Bells : XX Poems, and later appeared in numerous poetry anthologies.[1]


The poem is a meditative piece based on a ship's bell ringing five bells - which occurs at either 10:30am or 10:30 pm. The poem is a reflection of the death of Slessor's friend Joe Lynch who drowned in Sydney Harbour in 1927.


In her essay "'Living Backward' : Slessor and Masculine Elegy" (1997) Kate Lilley noted: "Chronologically displaced, “Five Bells” is repositioned and reread as the generically appropriate marker of the premature end of Slessor's career, and also as the aesthetically satisfying rhetorical proof of his poetic achievement. But the discursive meaning and affect generated by, and attributed to, Slessor's elegy exceed the boundaries of even the most expansive consideration of Slessor as poet, while also being disconnected from an analysis of genre."[2]

The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature stated: "Although the emphasis is on the impermanence of all human relationships and thus the triumph of time (moved by 'little fidget wheels') over life, the affection exposed for the scruffy, unruly, unimportant Irishman gives the poem a tender and human character."[3]

Impact and legacy[edit]

Inspired by the poem the Australian artist John Olsen completed his painting Five Bells on commission in 1963. It was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1999.[4] The artist also painted Salute to Five Bells as a mural for the rear foyer area of the Sydney Opera House concert hall in 1973.[5]

The Australian author Gail Jones wrote a novel titled Five Bells in 2011, and noted in her acknowledgments: "The first debt of this project is to Kenneth Slessor's elegiac poem, Five Bells (1939), which returned to me, like a remembered song, one midnight on a ferry in the centre of Circular Quay".

The text of the poem is reproduced on a banister in Kenneth Slessor Park in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood.

Further publications[edit]

  • One Hundred Poems : 1919-1939 by Kenneth Slessor (1944)
  • An Anthology of Australian Verse edited by George Mackaness (1952)
  • A Book of Australian Verse edited by Judith Wright (1956)
  • The Penguin Book of Australian Verse edited by Harry Payne Heseltine (1972)
  • Poems by Kenneth Slessor (1975)
  • My Country : Australian Poetry and Short Stories, Two Hundred Years edited by Leonie Kramer (1985)
  • The New Oxford Book of Australian Verseedited by Les Murray (1986)
  • The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry edited by John Tranter, Philip Mead (1991)
  • The Faber Book of Modern Australian Verse edited by Vincent Buckley (1991)
  • Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century edited by Robert Gray, Geoffrey Lehmann (1991)
  • Kenneth Slessor : Collected Poems Kenneth Slessor edited by Dennis Haskell, Geoffrey Dutton (1994)
  • Seven Centuries of Poetry in English edited by John Leonard (2003)
  • Two Centuries of Australian Poetry edited by Kathrine Bell (2007)
  • The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry edited by John Kinsella (2009)
  • Harbour City Poems : Sydney in Verse, 1788-2008 edited by Martin Langford (2009)
  • Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature edited by Nicholas Jose, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Anita Heiss, David McCooey, Peter Minter, Nicole Moore, Elizabeth Webby (2009)
  • The Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry edited by John Leonard (2009)
  • 100 Australian Poems of Love and Loss edited by Jamie Grant (2011)
  • Australian Poetry Since 1788 edited by Geoffrey Lehmann, Robert Gray (2011)

See also[edit]


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