Bruce Dawe wrote his poem “Homecoming” in 1968 during the Viet Nam war. The poem is an anti-war poem giving the author’s negative view of his home country Australia’s involvement in the dehumanizing conflict.
The title of the poem provides irony. When one thinks of homecoming, it is usually a happy time or one that both parties find reviving. There is no happiness for those involved in this homecoming…only deep loss and the question, “Why?”
This poem is written in the free verse style. It utilizes repetition to emphasize his key points. In addition, his use of participial “ing” words promotes the loss of identity of those soldiers who have died in this bleak war. Those who care for the dead follow a standard procedure: They are picking, bringing, zipping, tagging, giving, rolling, freezing, and bringing the dead heroes home.
Those who collect and take care of the bodies are never given a name; but they do their jobs not only with sorrow but coolly and quickly. His imagery gruesomely portrays the gathering of the dead and differentiating them in a cataloguing style. He separates the ethnicity of the dead by their hair: curly, crew-cuts and balding.
To represent the loss of men in a respectful way is part of the theme of the poem. Yet, Dawe’s perspective of war in its entirety forces the reader to watch as the many young bodies that are flown home are taken by their families to their final resting place.
The author’s tone is sardonic and ironic. His repetitive point of more and more dead coming day after day forces the reader to visualize the sacrificial lambs [men] to the great god “war.” The treatment of the body is the respectful but robotic management which saddens and evokes strong emotions.
The literary devices employed by the author include alliteration:
- The feared “telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree…”
- The spider grief swings in his bitter geometry
- …the howl of their homecoming rises
The images drawn are both visual and auditory. If the poem is read alive, the rhythm of the poem conveys the idea of the drum beating during the funeral march to the grave.
A moving image portraying the dogs in the howling stance saluting the dead soldiers passing by in the hearse. This finds a place in the mind’s eye.
Dawe’s primary point comes in the repetition of the first and last line of the poem:
All day, day after day, they’re bringing them home,
---they’re bringing them home, now, too late, too early.
Those that have died in battle come home late because if they have not been there, they would not have died. They are always too early because the men do not need to die at such a young age.