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Bruce Dawe is an Australian poet who often writes about the social evils of today. He expresses strong emotions and morals, through his poetry, on current issues of the society, hence often leaving the reader with many unanswered questions and therefore persuading them to reconsider their values. With the aid of poetic techniques, this is particularly evident in poems such as The Not-so-good Earth, Homecoming and The Wholly Innocent.


The Not-so-good Earth, written in 166 is a dramatic monologue in free verse and concerns the western world’s ignorance, disinterestedness and prejudices against Asian countries. Through the title of this poem, hyphenation and the use of the persona, the reader is, in turn left with several thoughts associated with this social issue.


The title itself already suggests the poem’s dominating interest as it is unambiguous that Dawe is playing with the title of the book The Good Earth, written by Pearl Buck - a novel dealing with a poor Chinese family and their struggles with life, only to become successful in the end through hard work. However, real life situations are extremely different from those experienced in The Good Earth and Dawe acknowledges the reality of life in countries like China. The title of this poem induces the reader to distinguish between the dreams and the reality of the world. It informs the reader in thinking beyond their world and to think critically of themselves and their attitudes towards the unfortunate regions of the world.


Throughout this poem, the struggle with life in China is continuing, though the only thing Uncle Billy is concerned about is making the television screen clearer by “using the contrast knob”. Even while he is adjusting the image on the television, “all those screaming faces / and bodies” are “going under the horses’ hooves”. This statement is hyphenated in attempt to make it conspicuous, however, having a clearer vision on the television is more important than the suffering peasants of China, to this family. People in China are “just” “starving away” and 600 million Chinese people have died, though we just view this as entertainment. From this, the reader is positioned to acknowledge the fact that it is disgusting and disappointing that people from the western society can simply perceive this as pure entertainment.


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The Not-so-good Earth takes the form of a dramatic monologue with the persona of this poem being just a young child. As a consequence of this technique, the reader visualises the family watching the television and from the persona’s description, it is apparent that the family feels no sympathy for the people on the television screen. From the persona’s ordinary speech, it is obvious that this young child has no idea of what is occurring and is more interested in her/his family’s actions � such as Uncle Billy’s “fast going eyesight” and her/his father tripping over the main lead and wiping out the television, than what is being presented on the television. Though the reader forgives this notion due to the persona’s immaturity and innocence. The use of the persona being a young child provides the reader with a factual account of a typical family’s reaction towards serious world issues. It portrays the fact that people in the western world just simply do not care about suffering nations, and that no one really does pay attention to issues like such, unless it is happening to them or to people of closer relations. However, this is an extremely superficial thought, as we should feel sympathy towards anyone who has to suffer unnecessarily. After all, we are all human and no one is more superior than another person.


Consequently, it can be seen that The Not-so-good Earth foregrounds the moral issues of the western society, and it is satirical as it portrays the fact that people from the western world possess little sympathy for the suffering people in many Asian countries. It establishes the point that people just do not care about others’ suffering, unless the suffering is happening to them or to people of closer relations. In turn, this leaves the reader with a self critical point of view, as this is the reality of life in many places, though if we cannot relate to it, we simply view it as entertainment.


Homecoming is an anti-war poem, which is written in 168 in conjunction with the Vietnam War. This poem is an elegy written in free verse and it is deliberately given the misleading title of Homecoming. This is ironic as coming home is usually portrayed positively, though the tone of this poem reflects a feeling of gentle melancholy, and this is predominantly due to the fact that the people arriving back home are all dead. From this, the reader is immediately positioned to view war from a depressing perspective.


Homecoming opens with a monotonous rhythm; however, this tone is broken when “those they can find” is read. There is an emphasis placed on this particular line and this attracts the readers’ attention as the reader acknowledges the fact that “them” and “they” are references to the soldiers. By stating, “those they can find”, the reader also realizes that many soldiers are often lost at war and cannot be found. In turn, the reader becomes conscious of the atrocious effects caused from war.


The formlessness of this poem, that is, in free verse and lacking punctuation, and repetition of “they’re”, accentuates the incessantness of war. The repetition also portrays these men as objects or processed meat � nameless, depersonalised and with no trace of identity. From this, the reader feels poignant and emotional, as the men who are serving our nation, are not even acknowledged by their name. The reader feels sympathetic towards the soldiers who have lost their lives through war, and we are positioned to perceive war as being nothing but a way of slaughtering the entire human race.


The simile “telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree” provides the reader with a vivid image of all the families who are receiving the horrific news that their loved ones have died as a consequence of war. This line portrays the fact that millions of people are simply killed from war and to the extent that the telegrams are trembling considerably. From this, the reader is positioned to comprehend that nothing positive arises from war.


As a result, this poem powerfully conveys the negativities and revulsion of war, something that despondently still exists today. It foregrounds death and establishes the fact that millions of bodies are lost and killed as a result of war. Furthermore, the names of these dead soldiers are not even acknowledged and they are only recognized from their hairstyles � “curly-heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms”. Dawe has used various techniques in positioning and manipulating the reader in believing that war is immoral and unnecessary in today’s society.


The Wholly Innocent, written in the 180’s is a ballad of dramatic monologue form, and concerns the issue of abortion. The persona of this poem is an unborn child who is speaking to her/his mother about her/his views on abortion and its consequences. This poem is completely humourless and the tone present is exceptionally serious as it is regarding an extremely controversial issue.


The title of this poem accurately reflects the subject matter, as the poem involves an aborted foetus who has done no wrong in this world, and is therefore “wholly innocent”. In turn, this positions the reader in believing that the unborn foetus, who has done no injustice to the world, should at least be given the chance to live. As in the line “Defenceless as a lamb.”, the foetus’s innocence is again reinstated as lambs symbolise purity. Therefore, the foetus’s innocence induces the reader to sympathise with her/him and thus, the reader is positioned to perceive that abortion is immoral.


The repetition of “I never” and “Nor” in the first two stanzas portrays the fact that the unborn foetus has missed out on numerous aspects of life due to her/his mother’s choice of killing her/him. The use of repetition expresses the endless list of things that the foetus has lost as a result of never having encountered life and all its wonders. In turn, this manipulates the reader in believing that abortion is unethical as by killing someone, you are not providing her/him with the opportunity to experience life.


The lines


“Oh you within whose god-like power


It lies to so decide”


is extremely powerful in this poem as it establishes the fact that the mother of this foetus has no right to take away her/his life. There is absolutely no justice in killing a life and these lines state the fact that the mother has no entitlement in doing so, as she possesses little power in comparison to that of god’s.


The last stanza in this poem is particularly effective in leaving the reader with a sense of guilt as it reveals the fact that the foetus is only human and would have also loved and enjoyed the things that other people take pleasure in. The line “I never got that far.” summarises the whole poem and leaves all the women who have ever undergone an abortion feeling guilty, as it reinstates the act of depravity that has been committed. In turn, the theme of having the right to life is again expressed.


As a result, it can be seen that The Wholly Innocent is specifically effective in conveying the immorality of abortion. Through a variety of poetic techniques, Dawe successfully foregrounds the theme of having the right to life and the reader acknowledges the fact that everyone should at least be given an opportunity to encounter it. Therefore, this poem establishes that abortion is profligate and unjust as by aborting a child, you are ultimately killing a form of life and are not even giving her/him the chance to experience it � a virtue that everyone deserves.


Consequently, it can be seen that Bruce Dawe does feel strongly drawn to comment on the social evils of today. This is evident in poems like The Not-so-good Earth, where Dawe criticizes the ignorance of people who demonstrate no interest in suffering nations, Homecoming, an anti-war poem portraying the loss of lives and negativities of war and The Wholly Innocent, which concerns the issue of abortion and therefore, the theme of having the right to life. Bruce Dawe once said that, “we write out of a need to come to terms with some concern, something “bugging” us.”, and from this statement, it is blatant that he expresses his emotions and morals through his poetry in attempt to share his views and concerns on contemporary issues of the world, and in influencing readers to reconsider their values.


Sok Lian Teow, 00


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