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Shoreline Forensics by John Kelly

And through the drifts the snowy clifts Did send a dismal sheen: Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken – The ice was all between. Poetry served even the most illustrious of Antarctic explorers. Both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton are known to have taken it with them to the continent of forbidding ice. For Scott, it was Tennyson, while Shackleton preferred Browning.

Even among those who travelled and worked with these great men, there are gems of inspired verse. Scott’s geologist Frank Debenham recorded his thoughts towards the end of his life, in 1956, in a poem called ‘The Quiet Land’. Here are the first lines: Men are not old here Only the rocks are old, and the sheathing ice. Only the restless sea, chafing the frozen land.

Ever moving, matched by the ceaselessly-circling sun. Wild birds go wandering over the face of the snow; Bright, swift, harsh-crying, strange and heedless. Transient in time over the mountains, As we are transient, strangers in an old land. In 2004, Bill Manhire, New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate, composed The Mountain to mark the 25th anniversary of the air disaster in which all 237 passengers and 20 crew were killed when the DC-10 carrying them crashed into Mount Erebus, on Ross Island, Antarctica. The commemorative ceremony took place at Scott Base, Antarctica, where these words were read by Sir Edmund Hillary:

I am here beside my brother, Terror. I am the place of human error. I am beauty and cloud, and I am sorrow; I am tears which you will weep tomorrow. I am the sky and the exhausting gale. I am the place of ice. I am the debris trail. And I am still a hand, a fingertip, a ring. I am what there is no forgetting. I am the one with truly broken heart. I watched them fall, and freeze, and break apart. Our earliest images of the Antarctic continent come from the artists who worked on board Captain James Cook’s Endeavour. Later, photography revealed a more accurate rendering of those icy landscapes, the sepia or black and white images strongly hinting at dazzling light and extraordinary colours, which, once again, would change perspectives about Antarctica’s supposed monochrome white. Still, though, painting persisted. Among the most moving are the delicate watercolours of Edward Wilson, physician and scientist on Scott’s Antarctic expeditions.

Since the 1970s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported over 60 photographers, musicians, composers, writers and poets, painters and filmmakers with the opportunity to share their way of

Issue 312

Resurgence & Ecologist


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