"Beach Burial" is a poem by Australian war poet, correspondent, and journalist Kenneth Slessor. The poem focuses on burial sites along the coast of Egypt (specifically, the Arab Gulf near the port city of Alexandria). Elegaic in tone, the poem laments the tragic loss of life that comes with war, and reflects on the anonymity of the dead men buried in the sand. It makes the point that it's impossible to tell which side of the war the dead men fought for in the first place. Slessor spent time reporting from Egypt during World War Two, so the poem may be based on personal experience.
Softly and humbly ...
... dead sailors come;
At night they ...
... in the foam.
Between the sob ...
... upon their nakedness;
And each cross, ...
... they begin –
‘Unknown seaman’ – ...
... drowned men’s lips,
Dead seamen, gone ...
... the other front.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
"Beach Burial" Read Aloud — A reading of the poem, with additional analysis.
World War II Poetry — A valuable sampler of WWII poetry curated by the Poetry Foundation.
More Poems by Slessor — A selection of other works by the poet.
Further Slessor Biography — An in-depth account of Slessor's life, provided by the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Slessor Radio Documentary — A program provided by ABC about Slessor's life and work.
1Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
2The convoys of dead sailors come;
3At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
4But morning rolls them in the foam.
5Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
6Someone, it seems, has time for this,
7To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
8And tread the sand upon their nakedness;
9And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
10Bears the last signature of men,
11Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
12The words choke as they begin –
13‘Unknown seaman’ – the ghostly pencil
14Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
15The breath of the wet season has washed their inscriptions
16As blue as drowned men’s lips,
17Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
18Whether as enemies they fought,
19Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
20Enlisted on the other front.