The monstrous continent

Another Australian poem today, though the ardour for our national day has slipped back into its place beneath quotidian quarrels over tax and the price of vegetables.

This is “South Country” by Kenneth Slessor, who's more famous for “Five Bells” or “Beach Burial,” which you might, if you were lucky, have studied at school. I like the mingled sense of menace and awe, the feeling of being exposed to immensities, walking on the sky's beach.

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.