Archive for December, 2008

The poetry of Bruce Dawe #3


Poem: And a Good Friday was had by all by Australian poet Bruce Dawe

One of the problems with writing poems about well known Christian themes is just that; they are very well known. It is therefore a challenge to write something fresh and original about a very well known topic. This is what immediately impressed me about this poem. It certainly looks at the crucifixion from a totally different point of view – that of the centurion.

            There is an immediate impact upon the reader, especially one with a deep Christian understanding of what it all means. Here is the centurion dealing with the event as just another day at work. ‘Orders is orders, I said after it was over/ nothing personal you understand.’ It is his casual approach to just another day on the job that bites so hard into those to whom the cross is so significant.

            Dawe has the uncanny ability to describe events in startling imagery. Consider, for example, these lines: ‘he rose in the hot air/ like a diver just leaving the springboard, arms spread/ so it seemed/ over the whole damned creation.’ It is an image that is not easily dismissed – or forgotten. And I love the irony – and spiritual significance – of the phrase ‘the whole damned creation.’ Without the sacrifice of Christ, the whole of creation was indeed damned.

            The final line has a chilling poignancy: ‘and a blind man in tears.’ We are all, in a sense, blind to the truth of what happened at Calvary, until the tears of repentance and acceptance cleanse our thinking.

The poetry of Bruce Dawe #2

Poem: Homo Suburbiensis by Australian poet Bruce Dawe

            On reading this interesting poem my immediate thought was that it expressed isolation and alienation. Australian suburban life can be – often is – a lonely, soul destroying place to be. Sadly, many do not know anything about their neighbours, not even their names. The whole poem expresses the loneliness and isolation of one man, lost and confused in his vegetable garden, the ‘one constant in a world of variables.’

            Everything in the poem spoke to me of the ordinary, the every day, the mundane, ‘the clatter of a dish in a sink,’ and ‘the far whisper of traffic.’ Everything in this poem speaks to me of the utter hopelessness of some city dwellers. It is almost a dirge of despair, summed up in the last line: ‘time, pain, love, hate, age, war, death, laughter, fever.’

The poetry of Bruce Dawe #1

Poem: Elegy for Drowned Children by Australian poet Bruce Dawe.

An elegy is a poem dedicated to someone (or something) who is dead. This sad poem is filled with pathos: ‘The voices of parents calling, calling like birds by the water’s edge.’ There are touches of dashed hopes, as in the line ‘The little heaps of clothes, the futures carefully planned?’ As a result I found the poem to be disturbingly sombre and oppressive.

            Dawe begins the poem with a reference to ‘the old king.’ The most obvious interpretation of this is to think of King Neptune. It is for the king’s delight that he takes boys down to his realm, one at a time. One wonders if Dawe has something more sinister in mind, but that is not supported by an interview with him I heard. The poem was just a response to children drowning. He stated that no-one in his family or circle of friends who had experienced the drowning of a child.

            Dawe imagines what it must be like to live in King Neptune’s domain. He states that, in order to keep his subjects happy that ‘Tender and solicitous must be his care.’ It is certainly a different view of drowning. Later in the poem the poet uses a stark contrast to highlight the emotions when he writes: ‘Yet even an old acquisitive king must feel/Remorse poisoning his joy.’ He then goes on to imagine that families who have lost young ones dreaming that their child has returned home ‘with wet and moonlit skin.’ This sad and poignant end of the poem it fitting, and in keeping with the rest of it.

            From a technical point of view, I found this poem to be an interesting one. It has five quatrains, each with a regular abba rhyming pattern, though it has an irregular meter.

The poetry of Gwen Harwood #6

Poem: Prize-Giving by Australian poet Gwen Harwood

            I thoroughly enjoyed reading and rereading this poem. Professor Eisenbart appears in a number of other poems, and along with Professor Krote they are a vehicle for Harwood to bring her musical interests into her poetry. From a technical point of view this is another example of Harwood’s fine skill as a poet. It is in iambic pentameter throughout with a very regular rhyming pattern (abcbca).

            The poem is filled with sexual tension, just like the room is filled with teenage girls: ‘He shook/ indifferently a host of virgin hands.’ It is not until one girl in particular attracts his attention, and as she rises to receive her prize, and to play, he is aroused by this ‘girl with titian hair.’ ‘He took/ her hand, and felt its voltage fling his hold/ from his calm age and power.’

            At first he had refused to attend the prize-giving event. He reluctantly agrees to come and finds the whole affair rather tedious until this girl grabs his attention. The ‘titian hair’ or red hair is symbolic of this girl’s attraction to this old fuddy-duddy academic. Titian is the name given to red-haired people after the Venetian painter Titian who mostly painted his portraits depicting red-haired subjects. One of his more famous paintings is of the Biblical Salome, regarded by many as an idealization of beauty. She was an icon of the female seductress, and her erotic dance resulted in the beheading of John the Baptist. Red-haired people have often been depicted in art and literature as having beastly sexual desires.

            Professor Eisenbart realises his foolishness after the girl finishes playing. He ‘peered into a trophy which suspended/ his image upside down: a sage fool trapped/ by music in a copper net of hair.’ The metaphors used by Harwood in this poem are a delight.


  • Harwood, Gwen, 2001: Selected Poems. Penguin, Camberwell.

The poetry of Gwen Harwood #5

Poem: Suburban Sonnet by Australian poet Gwen Harwood

I found this poem to be most unsatisfactory at first. Technically, it is called a sonnet but it is a poorly written one when I compare it to most of Harwood’s technically beautiful poems. While it does have a regular rhyming scheme like many other sonnets (abab cdcd efg efg) it is not strictly in iambic pentameter throughout. (To be fair, even the great GM Hopkins broke this “rule” on many occasions.)

I am particularly concerned about the last line. The stressed syllables are not iambic like the rest of the poem, and this has the effect of jarring on the reader. I can’t help but wonder if this was done deliberately by the poet in order to highlight the shattered dreams of the subject.

The poem is about a young mother who practices her piano playing while two toddlers play and fight around her feet. This could well have been a reflection on the poet’s own unrealised ambitions to play professionally. Her young family have stolen her dreams and she now wallows in a suburban nightmare of crying children, pots boiling over, washing dishes and thinking only of how to make ends meet by reading articles like Tasty dishes from stale bread. The irony of the symbolic dead mouse only reflects her own musical goals which are effectively like the corpse of the mouse.


Harwood, Gwen, 2001, Selected Poems. Penguin, Camberwell.