For a while there we had 25-inch Chinese peasant
families famishing in comfort on the 25-inch screen
and even Uncle Billy whose eyesight's going fast
by hunching up real close to the convex glass
could just about make them out--the riot scene
in the capital city for example
he saw that better than anything, using the contrast knob
to bring them up dark--all those screaming faces
and bodies going under the horses' hooves--he did a terrific job on that bit, not so successful though
on the quieter parts where they're just starving away
digging for roots in the not-so-good earth
cooking up a mess of old clay
and coming out with all those Confucian analects
to everybody's considerable satisfaction
(if I remember rightly Grandmother dies
with naturally a suspenseful break in the action
for a full symphony orchestra plug for Craven A
neat as a whistle probably damn glad
to be quit of the whole gang with their marvelous patience.) We never did find out how it finished up... Dad
at this stage tripped over the main lead in the dark
hauling the whole set down smack on its inscrutable face,
wiping out in a blue flash and curlicue of smoke
600 million Chinese without a trace...
The title contains “not-so-good” describing the contents of the poem, which is a negative adjective compound. It is a parody of the book “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck, which is about the good times, values and Chinese proverbs.
The phrase “For a while there” shows how Western society is apathetic towards the Chinese.
“25-inch Chinese peasant families” explains that the characters in the poem are watching a 25-inch screen television.
“famishing in comfort” is a juxtaposition in line two, whose comfort? Certainly not the Chinese. In line four “convex glass” relates to the television.
Dashes “-” in the first nine lines represent changes in tone of language and persona of the narrator.
“He saw that better than anything”-there is more concern for Uncle Billy being able to see what’s happening than what is actually happening.
In line 11, the main character is bored by the part “where they’re just starving away”, this shows his lack of compassion for their situation.
“Confucian analects” - Chinese philosopher. Analects are proverbs and/or homely wise sayings. In line 21 “it” represents the television.
From line 21 onwards they seem to be more worried about the television breaking than they do about the real life tragedy of the deaths of so many Chinese peasant families.
Line 25 (the last line) concludes with the phrase “600 million Chinese without a trace...” this portrays the complacency of western society in the way that they don’t realize there is life beyond their own lives, they are so immersed in themselves, that they think that this reportage is only for entertainment and once the television brakes the scene just goes off air. They don’t realize that this is still happening after the Television breaks, they don’t feel touched or even realize that this is a real life thing not just some program.
Generally: Consider the general attitude: very complacent and detached. The characters are ignorant and apathetic towards the Chinese in the documentary. Revealing the imperfection of western society being too self-absorbed, and preying on their lack of consideration and respect for others.
The poem constantly drifts between fact and fiction. Floating in the midst of reality displayed on the television, and the artificial world which our mind creates to block out the poverty and suffering that we are not directly involved with.
Throughout the poem the media promotes death scenes and action, while blunting the emotional impact of reality.
Dawe uses many colloquialisms “to be quit of the whole gang” this express the general laid back style of the poem.
Tone: Dawe maintains the tension between humor and seriousness.
The Not-so-good Earth (1966)