HSC Notes: 2 Unit General English:
North Country, filled with gesturing wood,
With trees that fence, like archers' volleys,
The flanks of hidden valleys
Where nothing's left to hide
But verticals and perpendiculars,
Like rain gone wooden, fixed in falling,
Or fingers blindly feeling
For what nobody cares;
Or trunks of pewter, bangled by greedy death,
Stuck with black staghorns, quietly sucking,
And trees whose boughs go seeking,
And tress like broken teeth
With smoky antlers broken in the sky;
Or trunks that lie grotesquely rigid,
Like bodies blank and wretched
After a fool's battue,
As if they've secret ways of dying here
And secret places for their anguish
When boughs at last relinquish
Their clench of blowing air
But this gaunt country, filled with mills and saws,
With butter-works and railway-stations
And public institutions,
And scornful rumps of cows,
North Country, filled with gesturing wood–
Timber's the end it gives to branches,
Cut off in cubic inches,
Dripping red with blood.
- Narrator addresses North Country
(note capitalised letters).
- filled suggests volume; connotes a positive,
optimistic thing - filled to overflowing, abundance.
- gesturing wood personifies trees - they are
alive, shows elegance of their movement that is
almost a form of communication (gesturing = hand
gestures). The reader sees a picture of the
countryside filled with these trees that are almost
human in movement.
- like archers' volley a simile that compares the
forest to arrows stuck in the ground as a result
of being shot from longbows (arrows being traditionally
made from wood).
- flanks - valleys have flanks like an animal; another
reference to it being alive with trees (personification).
- hidden valley suggests undisturbed, mysterious.
- filled, fence, flanks sound like arrows being released.
- verticals = 'perpendiculars' - this doubling up
of words exaggerates the height and shape of the trees.
- Like rain gone woodenthis simile is used to
paint the trees as heavy rain, when the trajectory
can be seen. This reaffirms the natural world, and the
height of the trees once again.
- f sounds in fixed', 'falling', 'fingers', 'feeling'
and 'for' reemphasise the 'f' sounds in the
- fingers blindly feeling : another simile.
- the semicolon is the first major pause after a series of similes,
'f' sounds and imagery. This describes the forest before it
was logged; marks passage of time, makes us consider the
line nobody cares - we consider all of this in
the forest that was, and the semicolon gives this emphasis.
- trunks of pewter image gives us picture of the forests
and its colours; pewter is an image of the silver-grey trunks
of eucalypt trees.
- bangled by greedy death - this vivid image shows us
the ringbarking that precedes logging, that makes the tree
die. bangled is almost a decoration, but turned
sour, so that tree is handcuffed by death. Death is personified
by greedy which suggests a gluttonous appetite.
Parallels greed of logging companies(?)
- Stuck with black staghorns, quietly sucking - Staghorns
are parasitic plants, and we get an image of the vegetation.
Stags also hunted by humans for antler trophies and meat.
black associates negatively with death.
sucking is vampiric, seductive; death and decay
imagery with pauses marked by commas, which suggests
- trees whose boughs go seeking: and then there are
also trees that almost look human: a hopeful return to optimism
that is then shattered by the next line:
- And trees like broken teeth which hits us suddenly;
suggests violence which has only been hinted at previously.
Very visual imagery shows us the effect of the impact of
violence on these trees - we see the jagged gaps. Slessor
shows us the violence that has been done to this country,
implies the humanness of the violence that has occurred here.
- Note the cumulation of trees by the 'and trees' repeated.
- smoky antlers = staghorns. Suggests dead stags
mentioned before, that are shot in the battue (a hunting term
for driving game up to be killed). Evokes our pity and horror;
compared to the wholesale slaughter of trees.
- smoky suggests gunfire, mist, smoke, evaporating
eucalyptus oil (eg in Blue Mtns) - we can't see clearly.
- the pause at the end of the first line makes us think about the
parasitic death, greedy death and violence.
- Or trunks that lie... /Like bodies - trees have trunks like
us - 'grotesquely rigid' could also be trunks of humans.
rigid = stiff, death, rigour mortis: trees here are
objects; gone from personified gesturing trees to a mass of
dead bodies that are twisted out of shape. We see the
visual agony, and rigidity of death.
- Like bodies blank and wretched is a direct statement
simile: 'blank' suggests no spirit, not a person anymore, just
a piece of matter. 'wretched' suggests the abandonment and
misery of it all. These evoke responses in us that intrude
and insist - the power of this poem is its emotional
strength that Slessor makes us feel strongly.
- Fool's battue is the wholesale slaughter of living things
that have no way of escape. 'fool's' suggests the stupidity of it,
the nonsensical nature of it.
- These last two lines emphasise the human qualities of the trees in
death, and imply man's humanity through his willingness to
destroy nature without thinking.
- Slessor makes us observe these trees in death.
- secret ways of dying here... /And secret places -
the repetition of 'secret' reminds us of the hidden valleys
that have now become secret places of death and agony.
Reminds us of the elephant's graveyard - a secret place to die.
- anguish = extreme pain, sorrow and misery. It gives
them personal qualities that began with line 1.
- boughs at last relinquish /Their clench of blowing air
- as the tree breathes, the leaves have grasped the air,
like a human breathing - draws it in and out of leaves. The
trees in anguish let go of the breath suddenly and die.
- clench: like the gesturing wood in a spasm - a spasm of
death and also of anger and solidarity; the trees are putting
up a fight, and hanging on to every last breath which makes
this line very real in human terms because, like humans, the
trees are relinquishing their lives in anguish.
- the dash at the end of the stanza is a parallel to the lives of the
trees - cut short with the sentence not finished, like the
leaves releasing their grip on the air.
- the transformation brought with the word But draws
our attention: the north country has become gaunt, thin to
the point of death, skeletal, with the trees like clothing.
- filled reminiscent of first stanza, but the irony of this
repetition is that it is now a positive term for the progress of
humans, as it then lists all the intrusive man-made and human
values of progress and change. There is no longer the
elegance of the forest.
- cumulation technique used to list man-made things. Note use
of compound words and the rhythm of the stanza - like an
advertisement for the area.
- scornful cows - not even the cows care - they have
the grazing lands that the trees have died for; the country
has now become denuded and will become worse with
overlogging, overgrazing and erosion as a result of this
slaughter of trees.
- Return to first stanza, but use of dash at the end of the line breaks
off the sentence, and tapers off like the memory of what once
was, an almost bitter memory, become scornful and affected by
the loss of the trees.
- Timber's the end is a bitter pun - they aren't trees
anymore, have been turned into a human commodity, that is
purchased in 'cubic inches'.
- the last lines remind us that trees are like butchered meat:
Dripping red with blood - trees do bleed with red
sap. Reminds us of the bleeding of the victim in a hunt,
sacrificed for the sake of human arrogance.
- Never once does Slessor say anything against logging, he just
paints a powerful portrait that evokes responses in us.
- The whole poem is just one sentence - one whole argument.
- The last stanza shows the human impact on the forest; we get
the imagery of butchery and timber being dragged off bleeding.
- The poet doesn't become emotional, just conveys emotion
through images to evoke emotion in us.
- Note the rhyme scheme throughout the poem - never intrusive,
but places a slight emphasis on important words like
'death' and 'teeth', 'rigid' and 'wretched', 'anguish' and
- There is an extensive use of imagery associated with hunting,
battles and many similes, metaphors, personification and
this is used to produce an effect on the reader.
- Explain how and why the trees and the valleys are personified
in stanza 1.
- Explain in your own words the simile of trees:
Like rain gone wooden, fixed in falling,
Or fingers blindly feeling...
- Stanza 2 contains the first significant pause (marked by the
semicolon on line 8). Explain the change in tone and imagery
which follows this in stanzas 3,4 and 5.
- Comment on the use of the hunting term 'battue'. What effect is
the poet hoping to achieve?
- a) In stanza 6 North Country has become 'gaunt' country.
Comment on this and on the use of the verb 'filled'.
b) Comment on the effectiveness of the listing technique
employed in this stanza (cumulation).
- a) What effect does the repetition of 'filled with gesturing wood'
have in the final stanza?
b) Is it different from the opening line of the poem?
c) Comment on the effect of the final statement:
Cut off in cubic inches,
Dripping red with blood.
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