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Homecoming by Bruce Dawe

A brief analysis

?Homecoming? was written in 1968 during the Vietnam War with the intent of making its audience aware of the senselessness and tragedy of war. The poem deals with the numerous stages of bringing the dead home for their ?homecoming? ? a supposedly joyous occasion worthy of great celebration. The title serves as a constant reminder of what may have been. Rather than coming home celebrating their heroic survival, they are being bought home dead:

they?re bringing them in, piled on the hulls of Grants, in trucks, in convoys,
they?re zipping them up in plastic bags,

Dawe uses a number of clever poetic techniques in order to express his feelings towards war. The repeated use of ?they? and ?they?re? in the first section hints at the impersonal relationship between the bodies and their handlers. Dawe shows his audience how this is the harsh reality of war ? if people allowed the usual human luxury of compassion to overcome them every time they saw yet another dead body, it would be too unbearable. Rhythm is also used a great deal in the first section, making it sound almost chant-like through the use of pauses that form a direct beat. This rhythm suggests a slow, mechanical process, almost like an assembly line.

Interestingly, Dawe goes against conventional methods of breaking his poem up into different stanzas. Despite this, it is evident that the poem exists in three main sections ? the gathering of bodies in the jungles of Saigon, the flight back to Australian for the dead soldiers, and finally the bodies returning home.

In the second phase of the poem, this monotonous rhythm is abandoned. Gone is the ?human touch? from in the jungles of Saigon; now the bodies are being lifted ?high, now, high and higher?, suggesting that the bodies are being taken to be laid to rest in heaven. Words like ?noble?, ?whine? and ?sorrowful? are used to express the sorrow and regret that Australian?s will feel as their dead youths are bought home. Through the use of the personification of the planes, Dawe voices the sadness and futility of the situation: ?tracing the blue curve of the Pacific with sorrowful quick fingers?

In the final phase of ?Homecoming? focuses on the soldiers finally coming

home, home, home

The tone changes, and the lines echo the feeling of homesick Australia soldiers. As the planes approach Australia ?the coasts swing upward? to meet the planes. This is the coastline that would have been so familiar to the soldiers? had they been coming home alive, yet now they don?t have the opportunity to see the ?knuckled hills, the mangrove-swamps, the desert emptiness?, an environment vastly different from the jungle they had fought so valiantly in.

Dawe uses an effective simile to remind the reader once again of the dead men ?in their sterile housing? they tilt downwards ?like skiers?. A more incorrect comparison could not be formed ? a skier is vibrant, full of life and vitality, quite the opposite of the stiff and lifeless corpses.

?The howl of their homecoming? as the plane lands and taxis along the runway can be directly compared with the final dying moments of the young men. The howling and whining of weaponry that surrounded the men in their last moments can also be compared to the cries of agony that will later burst free from the wives and girlfriends of the dead soldiers in whose hands deadly telegrams will tremble like ?leaves from a wintering tree?.

After the return of the dead, the noise fades. The pomp and ceremony is over, and individual families are now left to privately mourn and lament the loss of their loved ones. The tone now becomes more personal, with the obvious exclusion of the words ?they? and ?they?re? that were present in the first two phases. The country is void of noise as fellow countrymen are not on hand to greet them; rather their bodies are being bought home too. Only the men?s faithful friends, the dogs, are on hand to ?raise muzzles in mute salute?. As the soldiers have finally arrived home, they once again become human and individual, still living in the memory of those closest to them.

In this section, Dawe uses skilful imagery related to winter to create a mood that is cold, gloomy and lifeless. ?The frozen sunset? not only makes the reader feel chilled, but is also an ironic paradox.

The last words ?too late, too early? are another contradictory statement that leaves the reader to interpret them in their own way. I feel that it may be explained by saying that it is too late, because dead soldiers can have not joy of their homecoming, but too early because their families left behind are yet to understand and cope with the grief at hand. Or possibly it is it too early for the soldiers to die and they should still be alive, considering all that they endured during the war.

The overall tone of the poem encapsulates the hopeless sorrow that Dawe feels for the young people who are killed in wars all around the world every year. His skilful use of figurative imagery arouses sympathy from the audience and cleverly manipulates the audience to understand and reflect upon Dawe?s own attitudes towards war.

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