Kenneth Slessor was an Australian poet whose writing was known for its vivid imagery, verbal exuberance, and individualism. However, his works were also often touched with disillusionment and a melancholy atmosphere . The poems "Wild Grapes" and "Gulliver" exemplify his vivid imagery and energy, but they also both highlight...
Kenneth Slessor was an Australian poet whose writing was known for its vivid imagery, verbal exuberance, and individualism. However, his works were also often touched with disillusionment and a melancholy atmosphere. The poems "Wild Grapes" and "Gulliver" exemplify his vivid imagery and energy, but they also both highlight dark and challenging aspects of the human experience.
In "Wild Grapes," the narrator begins with a description of an old orchard that has been abandoned and left to fall into decay. Once the orchard contained delicious cherries and apples, but now only small acidy black wild grapes remain.
As the narrator eats the grapes, they remind him of a dark-haired girl named Isabella. She is now dead, and it is not clear exactly what their relationship was, but the memory seems to be bittersweet like the taste of the grapes. Here, Slessor is commenting on the human experience of time and memory. As we go through life, things that were important in the past are now lost in the passage of time, and as the poet points out: "Who remembers now?"
In "Gulliver," Slessor alludes to the famous novel Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, in which Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck and captured by the Lilliputians. To restrain him, they pin his hair to the ground and fasten many tiny ropes around his body.
The narrator of the poem "Gulliver" speaks of being bound by "this tyranny of sinews," "a hundred ropes of nerve and bone," and "strings too many." He complains that when he breaks one hair, there are still many more. He longs for a simple confinement of a chain, a wall, a tunnel, or a dungeon. Then he would have hope of escape. However, with all these tiny strings he is hopelessly confined.
He makes clear, though, that he is not physically imprisoned but rather confined by "love, hunger, drunkenness, neuralgia, debt, cold weather, hot weather, sleep, and age." These are difficulties common to everyone. So what Slessor is saying in this poem is that he feels bound by the human condition, in which these difficulties are ubiquitous, just as Gulliver was bound as a captive of the Lilliputians. Taken individually, these problems may be small, but when put all together, they pose a daunting challenge to human well-being.