Analysis of Bruce Dawe's Anti-War Poem, Homecoming

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An anti-war poem inspired by the events of the Vietnam War, Homecoming inspires us to think about the victims of the war: not only the soldiers who suffered but also the mortuary workers tagging the bodies and the families of those who died in the fighting. The author, Australian poet Bruce Dawe, wrote the poem in response to a news article describing how, at Californian Oaklands Air /Base, at one end of the airport families were farewelling their sons as they left for Vietnam and at the other end the bodies of dead soldiers were being brought home. Additionally, he wrote in response to a photograph, publishes in Newsweek, of American tanks (termed ‘Grants’ in the poem) piled with the bodies of the dead soldiers as they returned to the city following a battle. Set in both Vietnam and Australia, this powerful poem focuses on the ‘homecoming’ of the dead Australian soldiers, the homecoming motif reflective of the ritual of the same name – the packing, the journey and the reaching of the final destination. Written from a third person point of view, it is clear that the speaker, while an outsider, is emotionally affected by the events and regretful at the deaths. Dawe employs third person and ‘production line’ language of the first section (‘they’re’, ‘them’, etc. – impersonal pronouns) to communicate the detachment of the workers as they process the bodies. When the scene moves from the Saigon mortuary to the Tan Son Nhut airport and then onto the suburbs of urban Australia, we are able to appreciate that the obvious victims (the deceased participants of war) are not Dawe’s only focus: he responds to the role of the mortuary workers who locate and name the deceased as well as to the families who are about to receive the horrible n... ... middle of paper ... ...plores the process of the return of fallen soldiers to Australia, the metaphor suggesting a happy return which does not take place; and also the various victims of the tragedy, including the mortuary workers and the families, as well as the grief that does not merit any award. A powerful and moving poem, it causes me to think about the wars in the world today and the Australians taking part in them – will the same thing that happened to the Vietnam soldiers happen to them? Will they simply be carted home without honour, only to be deposited on their family’s doorstep causing sorrow throughout the neighbourhood? This poem, despite it referring to the Vietnam War, holds a timeless message: that the victims of war are not only the deceased soldiers but any person who comes into contact with them and their story, including the mortuary workers and the grieving families.

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