When analysing Bruce Dawe’s satirical portrait of a lone man’s domain, consider explaining the impact on meaning created by different language features. Starting with the title and structure is always sound, particularly if you can link the feature’s purpose with the meaning a reader can infer.
Remember to think about the ‘big ideas’ the poet is commenting on – or themes – and how these might link to your overall concept. In this case, it is the suburban aspect of Australian society from a male perspective: there is a clear image of a man’s escape into his backyard and vegetable garden. We could choose the interpret this poem as an example of overall satisfaction and contentment – a representation of an honest life. We could also recognise the depressive and isolated space that this persona occupies within an environment of many families and people.
Consider how the structure of this poem has elements of free verse, yet there are four three line stanzas, each taking us further into this private masculine world. The concluding couplet reinforces our understanding of the anonymity and insignificance of suburban life.
Each stanza shifts the focus of an image of personal control:
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
- the notion of ‘constant’ is both ironic and reassuring, with ‘takes down’ referring to regeneration or signifies the emotional weaight of the day
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
- a wider description uses specific sensual images ‘smells’ and the tactile ‘hoarse rasping’ deepens the juxtaposition, with implied pain of ‘whips’ furthered by the ambiguous or ambivalent ‘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
- the alliteration in ‘poising rampant’ and sibilant ‘smelling somebody’s smoke’ creates a negative or aggressive tone
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
- the invasion of other noises of suburbia and listing of intrusions into the persona’s escape asks us to decide whether the man lacks control, or more broadly if humanity, over nature
What are the consequences of human intervention, such as manicured lawns and neatly separated vegetable gardens, on the natural world?
*images from the ABC’s Stop Laughing: this is serious Episode 2 ‘Look at Moi, Look at Moi’. This episode looks at the ability of Australians to laugh at themselves, particularly the everyday ‘observational’ humour based on suburban life.