Social Issues Explored in Bruce Dawe's Poetry

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  • Topic: Human, Bruce Dawe, Vietnam War
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  • Published : May 23, 2013
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Australian Poetry

Bruce Dawe has used a variety of literary devices to represent specific marginalised groups in ways that challenge their reader’s perceptions. Two of his poems; ‘Homecoming’ and ‘Weapons Training’ are key and transparent examples of literary devices being utilised to represent specific marginalised groups. Both of these poems were set during the 1950’s, with Vietnam being written to represent soldiers pre-war and homecoming to represent soldiers returning to Australia. During this time period, the Australian nation lived via a very patriarchal manner, and had the utmost respect and admiration of their soldiers that fought during the world wars. However, it has been noted in Australian history that there was very little to no compassion given towards the returning soldiers from Vietnam; Homecoming is an attack at society for their reverence and respect-or lack of. This represents the marginalised soldiers from the Vietnam War, for the War Veterans from WW1 and WW2 had always traditionally returned home to a hero’s welcome, greeted at the airway and society’s full support to the brave soldiers who had risked and possibly given their lives for the country. Weapons Training is another war poem, but this time targets young soldiers pre-war on what can be assumed as a final addressing before taking into the ranks, this poem however various from the previous, the soldiers would have gone into the War with the expectation of being given thanks and praise for their bravery, instead they were barked at, abused and insulted. Dawe has represented both of the marginalised soldiers in both of the respective poems through his use of literary devices which can all fall under the brackets of a) Imagery and b) language, integrating into some finer details.

Bruce Dawe’s poem ‘homecoming’ is littered with imagery throughout the passage. The poem is set in the mid 1950’s, which was historically a very patriarchal time. This sense of accomplishment had been earned through the hard work and sacrifices that soldiers had gone through during the horrific events of world war one and two. Thus, when war veterans- alive, dead or injured- returned from another significant war; Vietnam, a logical person would also expect the same ‘hero’s welcome’ that was given to all the past soldiers. Sadly, this was not the case, and their efforts went on unrecognised. Dawe’s vivid use of imagery is a blatant illustration of this. For example, the soldiers (those they could find) were “piled on the hulls of Grants, in trucks, in convoys… zipping them up in green plastic bags”. The words ‘Grants, trucks and convoys’, paint the picture that the soldiers are just like cargo, or produce, which is usually associated with such vehicles. And the fact that they were ‘piled on’ conveniently. The ‘objects’ that were piled on were not just another cargo, they were human beings, not just any human beings (which in its merit still would not condone their actions) but the bravest of human beings, people who had given their life to help preserve their country, and this treatment is simply insulting. In the next line, Dawe again cuts one deeper at the idea, mentioning they were ‘zipping them up in green plastic bags’. This idea of the ‘green plastic bags’ is associated with garbage. Simply Insolent. The reader’s perception is challenged by this use of language, especially since these events were in living memory of the audience. When the realisation that these Soldiers were treated like ‘garbage’ the audience is struck with a wave of guilt, which has been cleverly constructed by Dawe. Another example of an attack on society’s method of dealing with the situation is the second shortest line in the poem (the primary being the significant “they are bringing them home”) “raise muzzles in mute salute”. This line is very cutting, for when the plane carrying the deceased landed in their home, the only mention of any recognition is from the ‘raised muzzles’. The...
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