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Response to Bruce Dawe's Homecoming

An analytical response to Homecoming, focusing on the technical elements of the poem.


[q]1. All day, day after day, they?re bringing them home,
2. they?re picking them up, those they can find, and bringing
3. them home,
4. they?re bringing them in, piled on the hulls of Grants, in
5. trucks, in convoys,
6. they?re zipping them up in green plastic bags,
7. they?re tagging them now in Saigon, in the mortuary coolness
8. they?re giving them names, they?re rolling them out of
9. the deep-freeze lockers ? on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut
10. the noble jets are whining like hounds
11. they?re bringing them home
12. -curly heads, kinky-hairs, crew cuts, balding non-coms
13. -they?re high, now, high and higher, over the land, the
14. steaming chow mein,
15. their shadows cross the blue curve of the Pacific
16. with sorrowful quick-fingers, heading south, heading east,
17. home, home, home ? and the coasts swing-upward, the old
18. ridiculous curvatures
19. of earth, the knuckled hills, the mangrove
20. swamps, the desert emptiness. . .
21. in their sterile housing they tilt towards these like skiers
22. -taxiing in on the long runways, the howl of their
23. home-coming rises
24. surrounding them like their last moments (the mash, the
25. splendour)
26. then fading at length as they move
27. on to small towns where dogs in the frozen sunset
28. raise their muzzles in mute salute,
29. and on to cities whose wide web of surburbs
30. telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree
31. and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry
32. -they?re bringing them home, now, too late, too early.

?Homecoming? by Bruce Dawe describes the homecoming of dead Australian Soldiers from the Vietnamese War, (lines 2-3). The poem has its poet expressing his opinions on man?s response to wars, their longing need to have them brought home and the brutality and futility of wars upon the human race as a whole. Basically, ?Homecoming? is a lamentation or a song for the souls lost in wars.

I chose this poem because it portrays the themes of Death, Loneliness, Sorrow and the outcome of wars. On a personal level, discussing theses themes gives me a better understanding of conflicts and how to resolve to them. The other reason why I chose ?Homecoming? was because it challenged me to think of the squandered lives of many young men at war and how many of us ignore the vitality of life.

I enjoyed ?Homecoming? because it was about historical reality that plays back in the present tense. The Vietnamese War was real and is now history; however, the ritual of finding some of the dead corpses lost in wars and bringing them home, still happens today. I also enjoyed the poem because the poet had communicated his message clearly, which was, to draw forth a direct reply from me to make an effort to get into his shoes and analyse his purpose of composition.

To evoke his themes, Bruce Dawe explores certain sounds of poetry. He uses assonance in lines:
9 ? ?deep-freeze? (to describe the temperature of the mortuary or where they keep the bodies of the dead before burial);
12 ? ?non coms? (meaning war participants who never received the commission they deserved for being out at war);
16 ? ?quick fingers?;
21 ? ?like skiers? (relating their homecoming in midair to the movement of war planes) and
28 ? ?mute salute?(meaning the dogs salute the soldiers quietly).

He also uses alliteration in lines:
2 ? ?those they?;
9 ? tarmac at Tan. . .? (a runway in a place in Vietnam);
12 ? ?crew cuts?;
21 ? ?tilt towards?;
29 ? ?wide web? and
30 - ?telegrams tremble? and ?like leaves?.

The poem also consists of rhymes. In lines 30-32, Bruce Dawe uses the end rhyme sound:
30. ?telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree
31. and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry 32. they?re bringing them home, now, too late, too early.

?Homecoming? has a soft but steady rhythm. Meaning that its rhythm is not discovered by reading it once in your head, but reading it aloud twice. Examples of the lines that have rhythm are 1 ?3:
1. ?All day, day after day, they?re bringing them home,
2. They?re picking them up, those they can find, and bringing
3. Them home??
The repetition of ?day? and ?bringing them home? can be described as soft because it isn?t pointed out in the first reading but in the following and it is steady because the words are repeated to emphasize the rhythm and the meaning.

Moreover, the poem is structured as one long stanza and is mainly composed of blank verses or lines that have no rhyme. In lines 6-20, the end words of the lines have no relation in terms to rhyme.

The poet also uses another poetic device known as figurative language. In line 30, he used a simile to describe and relate ?telegrams? to ?leaves from a wintering tree?. Another example lies in line 10, where the poet uses another similie ?the noble jets are whining like hounds?. Another type of figurative language he uses, is metaphors. In line 31, he makes the cities and suburbs of Australia a spider whose geometrical web is filled with bitterness over the death of soldiers.

Bruce Dawe?s purpose in composing this poem was to explore his opinion on the circumstance that when humans offer themselves as a sacrifice for love, they least realise that they are leading themselves to destruction. He came to a conclusion that the lives of many young men are wasted (line32) rather than sacrificed, as many like to think of it. ?Too late? meaning that they are already dead and there?s nothing anybody can do. ?Too early? because they haven?t accomplished their duties as young men on earth, like everyone else.

In a metaphorical sense, the poet blames the wars for such bitter grief placed upon the human race. To clarify his point, he paints the following images:

29. ?and on to cities in whose wide web of suburbs
30. telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree
31. and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry?

Meaning that telegrams about the death of the war participants are sent out to suburbs in cities and the families? grief about such bitterness. The spider is the city, which contains the control center, whose web connects to all suburbs and to the locations and causes of war. Once the death has been told, the families and people in this web are filled with such bitterness rather than sadness, because of such inhumanity. The effects of the war have then taken over this geometry or web with the people in it, and the only one left to blame is the war.

Bruce Dawe uses a voice that is confused by the dullness of death, which is stuck in between having no relationship with someone, but then being considerate to him or her again. He arouses an atmosphere of death, sorrow, grief and loss and makes us think twice about the consequences of wars ? unity or a waste and loss to the society and economy of a group.

Above all, Bruce Dawe artistically gets us to see (not only the Vietnamese War), but also the effects of all wars upon the human race through his poem?s purpose, his developed emotions and craftsmanship. ?Homecoming? remains precise to its themes of death, sorrow and grief. However it is still complicated to understand and relate to the main purpose; the bitterness of wars.

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