Poetry Study: Bruce Dawe’s Homo Suburbiensis

Here is another of Dawe’s poems, which I like to use for poetry study for early high schoolers.

Homo Suburbiensis

One constant in a world of variables

— A man alone in the evening in his patch of vegetables,

and all the things he takes down with him there

Where the easement runs along the back fence and the air

smells of tomato-vines, and the hoarse rasping tendrils

of pumpkin flourish clumsy whips and their foliage sprawls

Over the compost-box, poising rampant upon

the palings …

He stands there, lost in a green

confusion, smelling the smoke of somebody’s rubbish

Burning, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk

in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,

a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead

Not much but as much as any man can offer

— time, pain, love, hate, age, ware, death, laughter, fever.

Questions:

  1. What is the title a parody of?
  2. The title locates the poem in the suburbs. What does this connote about the man?
  3. The word “variables” in the first line refers to what?
  4. When Dawe talks about “A man”, he is referring to what?
  5. What could the “patch of vegetables” be a parallel to?
  6. Stanzas 2 and 3 use sensory imagery (smell). Identify 2 examples.
  7. What is another type of sensory imagery used in the other stanzas? Quote an example.
  8. Stanza 2 describes the pumpkin. What do you think the pumpkin represents and why?
  9. What is the effect of the ellipsis (…) and the indentation in Stanza 3?
  10. In Stanza 4, what do you think the distant noises represent?
  11. The words “offering up” have religious connotations. How does this portray the man’s actions?
  12. What do the last 2 lines mean?
  13. How do you feel about this person in the garden? Do you feel sorrow, empathy, sympathy? Or do you just feel a kind of emptiness, nothingness?

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