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Bruce Dawe's Homecoming: Critical Analysis of a Poem

Australian poet Bruce Dawe connects with both Australian and International readers with his poem 'Homecoming.' He uses poetic techniques to construct his attitudes towards war whilst pushing the boundaries of multiple words connotations and provides the reader with an understanding of Australian culture. Bruce Dawe worked many different jobs including being an airforce officer, postman and labourer, among other professions. Through his vast experiences in many different fields, Dawe is able to empathise with people from many different backgrounds and use his writing as a way to voice the Australian Spirit. He creates a specifically Australian cultural context where soldiers have been fighting in a war in Vietnam, and the dead bodies flown home. However, the poem has the ability to connect with the international reader as many of the concepts that are written about are common attitudes held internationally during times of war, the sense of moral outrage at the dehumanising aspects of war is an idea held widely in both Australian and International Culture. He also speaks on behalf of the dead soldiers who have no way of expressing their suffering and loss of hope. In doing so, Dawe ultimately exposes the misery of soldiers caught up in foreign conflicts and the shocking impact on families who are waiting on the return of their loved one from war.

The title 'Homecoming' is used effectively to contrast the traditional universal connotations of the word with the shocking reality of dead soldiers flown home from Vietnam to grieving families back in Australia. The word 'homecoming' is typically associated with a celebration or heroic reception for a great achievement, with a return to home and family life. This could potentially invoke a sense of anticipation in the reader as they begin to develop sympathy for those Australian families that were waiting for the return of a loved one whom has a real identity and a sense of being loved that they have lacked whilst being on the frontline. The title operates employs an unconventional meaning as the 'homecoming' described in the poem is related to death and the arrival of a nameless body, which is a stark contrast from the traditional connotations of a heartfelt joy extended to a loved one who is returning home. By attaching an atypical connotation to a globally understood ritual of a homecoming celebration, Dawe develops the idea of a homecoming traditionally being a celebration in Australian Culture.

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Diction in 'Homecoming' further develops the poem's universal appeal where Dawe highlights the lack of identity and indiscriminate slaughter of young men in the Vietnam War. References to green bodies in 'green plastic bags', shows the lack of individuality that not only Australian soldiers experience but a practise that is done internationally. Soldiers are being categorised as 'curly-heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms', a standardised and anonymous image, establishing the idea that class, race or background is no favour in war, further reinforcing the loss of identity. It is shocking that 'they're giving them names' since a name is one of the few identifying features left on the vast amount of otherwise anonymous, mutilated bodies, 'the mash, the splendour'. The separation of soldiers and their identity is a worldwide concept, successfully illustrated through diction.

The setting Dawe described in 'Homecoming' is that which is typically associated with the Australian outback, but the issues related to the horrors and futility of war are universal in their implication regardless of the cultural context. References to the 'knuckled hills' and 'desert emptiness' of the Australian landscape underscores the irony of the 'homecoming' since soldiers are unable to appreciate or comprehend the unique beauty of their homeland anymore, due to what has happened to them during the war. Personification further foregrounds the human qualities assigned to hill and such a beautiful landscape, which could almost suggest that the soldiers were products of the land and therefore their death is meaningless, or it could hint to the fact that with the arrival of the deceased soldiers, the beauty of the land has been disrupted. The 'desert emptiness' not only refers to the vastness of the Australian outback, but also to the empty futility of war. With the aid of imagery, Dawe establishes the pointlessness of war, in that of all the men who have ever died in battles shall never see their homelands again and that war purely ruins the charm of the land.

The final line of the poem generates the idea of war stripping soldiers of their hopes and dreams, which builds upon the concept of war being damaging to society. 'They're bringing them home now, too late' because the chance to save their lives has now past. However, it is also 'too early' since all these soldiers are too young, with their lives being cut short and left unfulfilled. Unfortunately, these soldiers will also never receive the true recognition they deserve for their efforts that would have been given at the end of the war. By using the technique of paradox, Dawe makes a final attempt at clarifying international misconception of war as beneficial and a construct that is needed in the world.

Bruce Dawe successfully establishes the uselessness of war is his poem 'Homecoming' as well as the negative connotations associated with the word 'Homecoming'. He is giving a voice to the lifeless soldiers who are returning home, through his years of experience in both the airforce and other professions, he has developed an understanding that is truly Australian but can also be held internationally. With the aid of various poetic techniques he evokes sympathy, carefully manipulating the audience to reflect upon his own views towards war. In this way, Dawe has created a poem that is uniquely Australian, presenting issues of global concern and generating universal appeal.

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