The Use of Language, Images and Themes in Australian Poetry
Examining poems by Judith Wright and Kenneth Slessor
When reading poetry I as a reader want to imagine a picture, conveyed to me by the language used in the poem. I want to be drawn into the poem, want to feel part of what is written and want to be able to see the images of the words in my own thoughts. The question therefore must be how a poet achieves such an effect in the reader. This paper will examine closely some of the means used by the two poets, Kenneth Slessor and Judith Wright, to make their language embody the image they are trying to convey. The paper will at first focus especially on short, individual passages to examine the use of stylistic devices and use of sound. The second part will focus on the bigger picture and look at the poem as a whole, examining the use of recurring images and themes.
Judith Wright’s poem Woman to Man reaches its climax in the last line of the poem in which a mother confesses the fear that comes alongside the birth of her child. The two lines before this confession seem to intensify the feeling of danger and threat that ultimately leads to the mother’s fear.
the blind head butting at the dark
the blaze of light along the blade.
By using the extended alliteration of ‘blind’, ‘blaze’, and ‘blade’ Wright moves these three terms closer together. All of these terms individually suggest a certain uneasiness or danger. The term “blind” expresses a sense of disorientation and isolation, “blaze” and “blade” both convey a sense of danger since they are affiliated with fire and a knife respectively. By closely juxtaposing these three terms Wright creates a very vivid impression of danger. The reader is presented with a very close-knit net of threats. The effect can be clarified further if one were to substitute only one of the three terms for another.
the blind head butting at the dark,
the flash of light along the blade.
Having substituted “flash” for “blaze” considerably lessens the impression of threat and uncertainty that in the final line of the poem leads to the mother’s plead:
Oh hold me, for I am afraid.
Similarly Kenneth Slessor makes use of alliterations several times in his poem William Street to intensify the images he is trying to evoke in the reader:
Smells rich and rasping, smoke and fat and fish
 The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, p. 53 (all following quotes are from the same volume)
 p. 53
 p. 9