Kenneth Slessor

(27 March 1901 – 30 June 1971 / Orange, New South Wales)

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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
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  • Ruark Lewis (6/8/2012 11:58:00 AM)

    In the 7th stanza, the word you have is 'ectasies' and should read ecstatsies. In this section Slessor thinks about what Joe had written in his 'journal with the sawn-off lock', and quoting from that he uses several deviant words, photoes and differant. I noticed that you have transcribed in the 2nd last line the word 'differant' when in fact Slessor's published version in 1957 spelt it correctly as 'different' and in the final line spells it 'differant' with an 'a'. I thought that was his intention. Photoes as potatoes... This quote was taken from the Labassa, a beautiful Victorian mansions in Caufield, Melbourne. I visited the Australian experimental poet Javant Barujia who lived there, who was only mildly amused with my fixation on the tower rising at that place. I have recently been performing a version called Five Bells Remix with British musician and composer Laurie Scott Baker which will be broadcast shortly by the Australian Broadcasting Commission music program. I shall now go and check other editions to make sure on the correct renderings on stanza 7. Thank you for have a digital version on-line. It is very convenient. Yes I agree, Five bells is a remarkable poem, and much loved here in Sydney. We particularly love the reference to Joe Lynch's Irish heritage, and his anarchist or revolutionary tendency.....and raging tales of Irish kings and English perfidy, and dirtier perfidy of publicans groaning to God from Darlinghurst. This traces to stanza 8 where Slessor recalls in his fabulous line 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... such a beautifully formed memorial leading to a meeting of Joe's father, the old man gone blind (the grave-yard mason) . Somewhere in this city it would be marvellous to have the masons insrcibed the whole poem in stone. It does deserve it. There is a memorial to Joe Lynch in the Botanic Gardens near the Sydney Opera House, a bronze made by his brother who was a new Zealand monumental sculptor. Ruark Lewis (Report) Reply

  • Sylva Portoian (2/26/2010 9:47:00 AM)

    The Bells of Slessor is not a one poem
    Has five pages with its chanting bells of extraordinary phrases
    Where he felt deep as if he was sunken in harbor there,
    He couldn’t breathe, but he spoke with death
    Blaming angrily why he died there
    He created romance with eternal feeling with Joe the death.
    As he was there and expressed his deep feelings
    Death, but alive to write such a strong words,
    I could not find somewhere else
    Accept in the Five Bells.
    As K.S repeated in his words, Five Bells. (Report) Reply

  • Fergus Hancock (2/6/2010 3:10:00 PM)

    The sadness of Darlinghurst and then the war Slessor wrote is heart-wrenching. His words take us beyond any rationalisms human thinking comes up with beyond that door. I am still struck by his view of the harbour and the Southern Cross hanging upside in its reflection; such an image! (Report) Reply

  • Liam Dudgeon (6/16/2009 10:23:00 PM)

    A true classic Australian poem. The image of Sydney harbor is amazing, and everytime I take the ferry I can almost see Joe there in the water. (Report) Reply

  • Amberlee Carter (5/18/2005 12:23:00 PM)

    I think this work is beautiful and much of its meaning is beyond mere humanistic comprehension, I'd say, somewhere between the moment and the afterimage.. (Report) Reply

  • Mark Ritzenhein (5/12/2005 9:28:00 PM)

    This poem is profound, both in meaning and oceanic depths. The imagery of a deceased man unable to communicate past the porthole glass, both literally and figuratively, is a frightening and honest portrayal of the absolute nature of death. It's antique context pulls one back to a previous era, wherein you then feel some sense of familiarity. I've only recently discovered this poet, and I was stunned by his powerful metaphors. They remind me of one of my own poems on a similar theme, as well as other drowning images found in recent films, like Titanic, Orlando, and the Lord of the Rings. I am very inspired by this work. (Report) Reply Updates

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