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.


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