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Analysis of "Homecoming" by Bruce Dawe

A long analysis of "Homecoming" by Bruce Dawe

2. In ?speaking for those who have no means of speaking?, Dawe has succeeded in writing poetry that has universal appeal.

In ?Homecoming?, poet Bruce Dawe uses vivid visual and aural poetic techniques to construct his attitudes towards war. He creates a specifically Australian cultural context where soldiers have been fighting in a war in Vietnam, and the dead bodies flown home. However the poem has universal appeal in that the insensitivity and anonymity accorded to precious lives reduced to body bags are common attitudes towards soldiers in all historical conflicts. Although Dawe makes several references to the Vietnam War, the sense of moral outrage at the futile, dehumanising aspects of war is a universal theme. He also speaks on behalf of the mute, dead soldiers who have no way of expressing their suffering and loss of hope. By ?speaking for those who have no means of speaking?, Dawe ultimately exposes the brutal hopelessness of soldiers caught up in foreign conflicts and the shocking impact on families.

The title ?Homecoming? is used effectively to contrast the traditional universal implications of the word with the shocking reality of dead soldiers flown home from Vietnam to grieving families. The word ?homecoming? usually implies a celebration or heroic reception for a great achievement, with a return to roots and family. It would further invoke a sense of anticipation for the return of a loved one whom has a real identity and a place in the hearts of those awaiting his arrival. However, the title operates ironically because the ?homecoming? described in the poem is related to death, mourning and loss and the arrival of a nameless body is quite different from the heartfelt joy extended to a loved one. By establishing irony through the globally understood ritual of homecoming celebration, Dawe generates universal appeal.
Through the use of repetition, Dawe establishes the inhuman, machine-like processing of human bodies, a ghastly reality common to all conflicts that use innocent soldiers as cannon fodder. These soldiers will never have an opportunity to voice their protests or their sense of loss, hence Dawe offers a shocking expose of the futility of war and is able to voice his concerns of those who cannot articulate their views. Repeated use of the pronoun ?they?re?, hints at the impersonal relationship between the bodies and their handlers. Repetition of the suffix
?-ing? in ?bringing?, ?zipping?, ?picking?, ?tagging?, and ?giving?, describing the actions of the body processors, establishes irony. These verbs imply life and vitality, in stark contrast to the limp, lifeless, cold body that they handle each day. Repetition is used effectively to highlight the shocking brutality that has manifested in all wars throughout history.

Word choice in ?Homecoming? further underpins the poem?s universal appeal where Dawe foregrounds the lack of identity and indiscriminate slaughter of young men in the Vietnam War. References to green bodies in ?green plastic bags?, shows the lack of individuality. Soldiers are being categorised as ?curly-heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms?, a detached and anonymous image, establishing the idea that class, race or background is no favour in war, further reinforcing the loss of identity. It is shocking that ?they?re giving them names? since a name is one of the few identifying features left on the plethora of otherwise anonymous, mutilated bodies, ?the mash, the splendour?. The separation of soldiers and their identity is a worldwide concept, successfully illustrated through word choice.

Dawe uses vivid visual imagery to emphasise the emotional damage caused to friends a family through the loss of a loved one, a deep suffering that is often left unrecorded in the annals of history. ?Telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree? and ?the spider swings in his bitter geometry?, exemplify the arbitrary grief that affects those who receive notices. Personification of the telegrams shows them as ?trembling? under the burden of the news they must deliver, ending any hope for families wishing their loved ones shall return alive. The relation of telegrams to leaves falling from a ?wintering tree? is a powerful image, providing the reader with some idea of the immense number of dead soldiers. Dawe further suggests that a ?wide web? joins all countries, with none able to escape the ?spider grief? associated with war. By exposing the destructive and dehumanising aspects of war, Dawe appeals to the masses, removing it from its falsely glorified position.

Through the further use of imagery, Dawe succeeds in writing poetry that has universal appeal by underscoring the savage nature of war. The simile ?whining like hounds? emphasizes the destructive characteristics of war, also depicting dogs as sympathetic feelers of human emotion. For these dead soldiers, there is no big parade and music, only ?the howl of their homecoming?. The world famous twenty-one gun salute is also mocked, ?mute salute?, further establishing the worldwide notion of dogs as mans best friend, who unfortunately cannot voice their grief in words. Although these men have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up their lives, the fact that they get no recognition for this act except from their dogs, emphasizes the global concept of war as dehumanising.

The setting Dawe describes in ?Homecoming? is characteristically Australian but the issues related to the horrors and futility of war are universal in their implication regardless of the cultural context. References to the ?knuckled hills? and ?desert emptiness? of the Australian landscape underscores the irony of the ?homecoming? since soldiers are unable to appreciate or comprehend the unique beauty of their land. Personification further foregrounds the human qualities ascribed to hill and the landscape, whereas the soldiers are ironically devoid of all life and humanity. The ?desert emptiness? not only refers to the vastness of the Australian interior, but also to the empty futility of war. With the aid of imagery, Dawe establishes the pointlessness of war, in that of all the men who have ever died in battles shall never see their homelands again.

The final line of the poem creates the idea of paradox, further endorsing the notion of senseless life loss, a universal theme. ?They?re bringing them home now, to late? because the chance to save their lives has now past. However, it is also ?too early? since all these soldiers are too young, leaving behind an unfulfilled life. Unfortunately these soldiers will also never receive the true recognition they deserve for their efforts that would have been given at the end of the war. By using the technique of paradox, Dawe makes a final attempt at clarifying international misconception of war as beneficial.

Bruce Dawe successfully establishes the uselessness of war is his poem ?Homecoming?. He can be said to be ?speaking for those who have no means of speaking? in the way he presents the attitudes of the silent, dead soldiers being flown home from Vietnam. With the aid of aural and visual poetic techniques he arouses sympathy, carefully manipulating the audience to reflect upon his own views towards war. In this way, Dawe has created a poem that is uniquely Australian, presenting issues of global concern and generating universal appeal.


Dawe, B. (2000). Homecoming. In Bernard, V. (Ed.), Sometimes Gladness (p. 95). South Melbourne: Pearson Education Australia.
Smith, G. (1997). An appreciation of ?Homecoming? by Bruce Dawe. [WWW document]. URL http://home.pacific.net.au/~greg.hub/lifecycle.html
Salmon, K. (2000). Poetry of Bruce Dawe. [WWW document]. URL http://www.ozseek.com.au/English2UGen/PracticePapers/00301a.shtml.

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