Poetry Study: Bruce Dawe’s Homecoming

Bruce Dawe’s poem Homecoming can be a good text for early highschool students to study and analyse.

It’s short, uses quite clear poetry techniques and can also be an introduction to themes associated with anti-war poetry.

Homecoming

All day, day after day, they’re bringing them home,

they’re picking them up, those they can find, and bringing them home,

they’re bringing them in, piled on the hulls of Grants, in trucks, in convoys,

they’re zipping them up in green plastic bags,

they’re tagging them now in Saigon, in the mortuary coolness

they’re giving them names, they’re rolling them out of

the deep-freeze lockers — on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut

the noble jets are whining like hounds,

they are bringing them home

– curly heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms

– they’re high, now, high and higher, over the land, the steaming chow mein,

their shadows are tracing the blue curve of the Pacific

with sorrowful quick fingers, heading south, heading east,

home, home, home — and the coasts swing upward, the old ridiculous curvatures

of earth, the knuckled hills, the mangrove-swamps, the desert emptiness…

in their sterile housing they tilt towards these like skiers

– taxiing in, on the long runways, the howl of their homecoming rises

surrounding them like their last moments (the mash, the splendour)

then fading at length as they move

on to small towns where dogs in the frozen sunset

raise muzzles in mute salute,

and on to cities in whose wide web of suburbs

telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree

and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry

– they’re bringing them home, now, too late, too early.

Questions:

  1. Why is the title “Homecoming” ironic?
  2. Describe the rhythm created in the first 10 lines.
  3. Who are “they” and “them”? Why are ‘they’ not named?
  4. What is the relationship created between “they” and “them”?
  5. What is the effect of describing details of the “green plastic bags” and “deep-freeze lockers”?
  6. Find three examples of repetition and comment on their use and effectiveness.
  7. What is the purpose of Dawe’s lists, such as ‘curly-heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms’?
  8. What alliteration is used in that line and what is its effect?
  9. Choose three images evoked by Dawe. What is their significance and impact?
  10. What does “the howl of their homecoming rises” referring to?
  11. What does the oxymoron ‘…too late, too early’ mean?
  12. The poem ends in a small group of simple words. What is the effect of this?
  13. What is the effect of not using any full stops (only commas and dashes)?

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