Human condition encompasses the unique and inevitable features of being human. It includes all aspects of human behaviour, irreducible part of humanity that is inherent and not dependent on factors such as gender, race or class. Human condition also includes concerns such as the meaning of life and anxiety regarding the inescapability of death. The techniques used in the poems ‘Five Bells’ and ‘William Street’ by Kenneth Slessor and ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ by Paul Kelly give us insight into the human condition.
The poem ‘Five Bells’ is about the death of Joe Lynch, the poet’s colleague who drowned in the water by jumping off Sydney Ferry ten years before this poem is written. The words ‘five bells’ symbolizes time, and it is constantly repeated in the poem to emphasize that the poem is all about time. ‘Five bells’ measures how time passes and Slessor is telling the audience that time and life passes too quickly. The stanzas are not the same in length, which symbolizes Slessor’s flowing and unstable memory and mood by the time he wrote this poem.
Slessor shows his traumatism of Joe’s death in the quote ‘But I hear nothing, nothing…only bells’ and ‘Your echoes die, your voice is drowned by Life… ’ Slessor writes ‘Life’ with a capital letter because he obviously thinks that life is so important and asks questions about life and the meaning of life. Rhetorical question is used in the quote ‘Why do I think of you dead man, why thieve these profitless lodgings from the flukes of thought Anchored in Time? Slessor uses metaphor in ‘Anchored in Time’ to tell the audience about his deep sadness about Joe’s death and the shortness of life. He also uses hyperbole in ‘The night you died, I felt your eardrums crack’ to describe Joe’s unexpected and shocking drowning.
The onomatopoeia ‘crack’ makes the reader actually hear and feel the awful crack and pain. The poem is ended with the repetition of ‘five bells’ again in the quote ‘Five bells. Five bells coldly ringing out. Five bells. It leaves the readers with a cold shiver and wondering how much time left do we have on earth. Slessor leaves the audience with many questions about the meaning of life without giving any answer about it, which gives us insight into the human condition, the concern about the meaning of life and the inescapability of death. There are some similarities in both of Kenneth Slessor’s poems, ‘Five Bells’ and ‘William Street’. He mentioned alcohol in both poems, ‘And slops of beer, your coat with buttons off’ in ‘Five Bells’ and ‘the liquor green’ in ‘William Street’.
This emphasis on alcohol is part of Australian culture and Australian living condition. ‘William Street’ is written during the Great Depression. There were economic difficulties, unemployment, poverty and homelessness, which are reflected on ‘William Street’. Death is also mentioned in both poems, Joe Lynch in ‘Five Bells’ who fell off the boat and died, and bad economic situation, which brought to alcoholism and causes death in ‘William Street’. The imagery quotation of the neon lights, ‘The red globes of light, the liquor green’ has double meanings in it. The red globes’ symbolizes prostitution and ‘the liquor green’ symbolizes alcoholism. Personification is used in ‘The pulsing arrows and the running fire’ to emphasize that this place is actually living and active. Alcoholism and prostitution does not mean that William Street is ‘ugly’. Each stanza in the poem ends with the repetition of ‘You find this ugly, I find it lovely’, which has two contrast rhyming adjectives. He leaves up to the reader to make the judgment about the living condition in Kings Cross.
Slessor uses human’s five senses in his imagery of this poem, such as the sense of smell in the third stanza, ‘Smells rich & gasping, smoke & fat & fish…’ The use of colloquial language in the fourth stanza, ‘The dips & molls’, which means alcoholics and prostitutes in Australian jargon, which is also telling the audience about Australian lifestyle. ‘William Street’ is about people’s different perspective of the urban Australian lifestyle and leads us to a better understanding of the human condition, through an apparent interpretation of the nature and attitudes towards everyday life.
Kenneth Slessor’s poems are about the urban lifestyle in Australia, however, Paul Kelly’s presents an alternate insight into the human condition, and through his song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ is a protest about the discrimination and prejudice towards the Aborigines. It is a ballad, which is a song that tells a story, ‘Gather round people, I’ll tell you a story’. Kelly uses simple language in this poem but it conveys very powerful meanings, in the sense that the use of simplistic language is in fact synonymous with the simple nature of life reality and the resulting human conditions.
Repetition is used throughout the poem, with the main effect to emphasize the main point of the poem. ‘From little things big things grow’ is a representation of the Aboriginal’s attitude towards improving their own living conditions, and in the poem this is associated with generating wealth, and gaining input into the laws affecting them within the Australian political, as demonstrated by the quotes ‘…they had gathered the wealth of the land’ and ‘how power and privilege cannot move a people’. This is symbolic of the human condition effecting Aboriginals, who have been reduced to a socially and politically negligible position within society.
To conclude, the three poems ‘Five bells’ and ‘William Street’ by Kenneth Slessor, and ‘from little things big things grow’ by Paul Kelly employ a number of techniques to convey varying interpretations of the human condition, including repetition, onomatopoeia, symbolism, and stanzas dissimilar in length. The poems describe the seediness of life, the futility and negativity of life and the development of cultural and political boundaries in society, precluding certain groups from accessing an equal lifestyle, thus culminating in multitudes of human conditions.