Discussion Topic

Poetic devices in Oodgeroo Noonuccal's works


Oodgeroo Noonuccal's works prominently feature poetic devices such as imagery, symbolism, and repetition. She uses vivid imagery to bring Indigenous Australian experiences to life, symbolism to convey deeper meanings about cultural identity and struggle, and repetition to emphasize key themes and ideas, enhancing the emotional impact of her poetry.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What poetic devices are used in "Then and Now" by Oodgeroo Noonuccal?

Oodgeroo Noonuccal was born in Australia in 1920. Her father belonged to the Noonuccal tribe, and she became an activist for Aboriginal workers in Australia. This poem talks about the way "civilization" harmed the Aboriginal people who had been living in the land.

Noonuccal uses many poetic elements in her poem. A previous educator mentioned alliteration, but Noonuccal also uses assonance and consonance throughout the poem.

Assonance is the use of repeated vowel sounds throughout a poem.

Offices now, neon lights now,

bank and shop and advertisement now,

traffic and trade of the busy town.

Here, she repeats the harsh sound of the vowel "o" several times; in offices, neon, now, shop, town. The harsh sound of "ow" contrasts with the softer sound made by "oo" in words like "didgeridoo" and "boomerang."

A good example of consonance comes in the first stanza, where the letter "t" is repeated in "tribe,' "hunt," "shattered," "tram," "train," "tribe," "teeming," and "town."

The letter "t" forces you to slow your reading and enunciate, and it also is a sharp letter that cuts through the other sounds, similar to the way the trains cut through the natural landscape.

Noonuccal also uses enjambment as a poetic device. Enjambment is when a thought is continued despite a line break. For example, she writes,

And where I remember the didgeridoo

Calling us to dance and play....

Ending a line in the middle of a phrase can have a lot of different effects. It can serve to speed up a poem, to set the tone, to create a pause, or more. In this poem, Noonuccal might have used enjambment to further emphasize interruption. The poem is about the Aboriginal people's lives being interrupted and upended. By using abrupt line breaks, she could be emphasizing how abrupt the change was for her people.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What poetic devices are used in "Then and Now" by Oodgeroo Noonuccal?

In the second grouping of lines, the didgeridoo, a large wooden instrument used by Australian aborigines, is personified as "Calling us to dance and play." Personification is the attribution of human qualities to something that is not human. An instrument cannot willfully call anyone to do anything, but the person playing the instrument might be using its sound in order to call someone to so something. Therefore, this line constitutes a personification of the didgeridoo.

In the final grouping of lines, the speaker uses refrain, the repetition of words or phrases, in order to draw more attention to and reinforce how much she has lost in the change from aboriginal culture to the dominant, white culture. She says,

No more woomera, no more boomerang,
No more playabout, no more the old ways.

She repeats the words "no more" four times in these two lines rather than use a conjunction like "or" in order to allow her losses to seem to build, to snowball. In addition, the lack of a conjunction like "and" after the final comma and before the last item in this series, or list, is an example of asyndeton. Asyndeton is the exclusion of this conjunction, and it is used in order to achieve a similar, snowball, effect. Further down, the speaker says,

Now I am civilized and work in the white way,
Now I have dress, now I have shoes [...].

There is some irony in the first of the two lines above. People normally talk about being "civilized" as though it is a good thing, but it seems to be a negative here. Irony is created when what happens is the opposite of what one expects; we expect "civilized" to be a good thing, but, for the speaker, it is clearly not. The speaker has lost so much in order to become "civilized" and now she must work in "the white way," existing in the manner dictated by the white, rather than aboriginal, world. She repeats the words "now I" three times in these two lines to draw attention to the lackluster qualities of what she's "gained" compared to all that she's lost. In the final two lines, the speaker says,

Better when I had only a dillybag.
Better when I had nothing but happiness.

People tell her how lucky she is to "'have a good job,'" but she does not feel lucky. The repetition of the words "Better when" in the lines above reinforce how superior her youth, her happiness as a "child of nature," was compared to her "civilized" and empty adulthood. In the two lines above, the refrain of "Better when" can be more accurately described as anaphora, which is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of lines.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What poetic devices are used in "Then and Now" by Oodgeroo Noonuccal?

The author uses several poetic devices in the poem "Then and Now." The first stanza includes the use of onomatopoeia in the phrase "grinding tram and hissing train," which helps the reader add sound to the imagery of the modern industrialized city. There are also many instances of alliteration throughout the poem. "Teeming town," "traffic and trade," and "white ways" are a few good examples of alliteration.

The author uses repetition to help the reader focus on her theme in the poem. The speaker is lamenting the changes that have occurred over her lifetime. By repeating the words "now," "one time," and "no more," Noonuccal draws the reader's attention to the changes and evokes a feeling of nostalgia for the old Aboriginal ways.

The author also uses colloquial language in the poem to help develop the theme of how times have changed. By using Aboriginal words such as "corroboree," "didgeridoo," "woomera," and "playabout," the author is highlighting how different the culture of the speaker's childhood was from the life that is going on around her.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What poetic devices are used in "A Song of Hope" by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, and what's their effect?

This poem very clearly conveys hope for a "juster justice," and a "glad tomorrow"; it conveys hope that the native peoples of Australia will rise above their oppression and be represented fairly and respectfully both within the justice system and in society. Noonuccal conveys this hope, as well as the oppression of her people, through a wide variety literary devices, many of which overlap.

First, she makes many allusions both to the dark history of subjugation endured by the aboriginal peoples as well as the times before this subjugation. Mentions of "the years behind you," hope that "shall the past replace," "to our father's fathers / The pain and sorrow," all refer to a long era of pain and suffering at the hands of the predominantly white colonial governing class. In addition, the lines mentioning "juster justice" and "Till hate be hated" refer to the actual injustice within the justice system and the fact that hate is not hated, but is condoned and goes largely ignored and unpunished. All these things emphasize the victimization of the aboriginal people and establish feelings of helplessness, fear, anger, and hurt that are then contrasted with the possibility of a bright future.

In contrast, the mention of "Dream Time" in the fourth stanza hearkens back to the early ages of the world in Aboriginal mythology, when ancestral beings lived in peace, creating and naming the features of the world. This calls up feelings of peacefulness and tradition and stability, things that have all been under attack for the aboriginal people.

Noonuccal uses metaphor and comparison to contrast the dark time before with the hopeful time to come: the past is described as night and labor—"Night's nearly over, / And though long the climb"—while the future is described with daytime imagery:

Look up, my people
The dawn is breaking
The world is waking
To a new bright day

And in the third stanza, she declares, "Now light will guide us." This contrast of darkness and light is a common one, and the reader can immediately latch onto its meaning—in the light, her people can finally be "completed" by "joy"—that is, their lives will be fulfilled and the long struggle of their fathers will be over.

As others have mentioned, personification is frequent in this poem, and it seems to soften the burden of suffering by not pointing fingers at people, but at institutions and concepts that those people represent or that are represented by those peoples' actions. So "light" can be a guide, "New rights" can greet, "new mateship" can meet, "restriction" shames, and "colour" tames.

Similarly, "a juster justice / Grown wise and stronger / Points the bone no longer / At a darker race." Here it is justice that will grow wise and strong by being fair in its treatment of aboriginal people; it will no longer "point the bone"—that is, place the blame on them or accuse them unfairly. In all these examples, it is the laws, restrictions, rights, and systems themselves that take the action, rather than the people behind these things. This turns the fight for justice into a conceptual one and gives the poem a noble feel; it allows the poem to do just what it is hoping these systems will do in the future: avoid pointing the finger and not bring individual differences into it. The poem is not punishing an entire people, but the institutions and embedded traditions and misinformation that allow them to act unjustly.

Also, by using a direct address to aboriginal people, Noonuccal creates community and solidarity with her words; "So long we waited," she laments. It is not her father's fathers who suffered, but "ours;" "our children's children" will see a "glad tomorrow." Throughout the poem, she includes her people by using first-person plural pronouns, and through this technique even brings in the reader to evoke sympathy and passion for the justice she hopes for.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What poetic devices are used in "A Song of Hope" by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, and what's their effect?

This poem is an address to "my people," and, accordingly, many of the devices used in it are rhetorical devices commonly found in speeches meant to persuade and encourage. The anaphora in the first stanza—"when none defame us / No restriction tame us / Nor colour shame us"—is used in conjunction with a variation on the "rule of three," where the rhymes and the word "us" are repeated three times for emphasis. The repetition of "us" at the end of each line (epistrophe) creates a sense of unity, emphasizing the fact that we, "us," the people addressed in the opening line, are banded together against those who might seek to "defame."

The poet also uses phrases such as "a juster justice" and "till hate be hated," to draw attention to these issues. "Justice," if it can be made "juster," is not yet truly justice; meanwhile, "hate" must be "hated" as the world grows brighter.

The metaphor of "night" as a representation of the figurative darkness in which the people in the poem have been held repeats throughout the poem, used in conjunction with the "light" which will guide the people now that "dawn is breaking."

In the final stanza, we see once again a striking use of parallelism which serves to emphasize the difference between the two groups discussed: "our fathers' fathers" and "our children's children." The one represents the past ("the pain, the sorrow,") whereas, juxtaposed against this, we see the "glad tomorrow" of the children's future. The structure of this final stanza helps to convey the stark difference between life under "night" and the life to be longed for in the new day that is coming.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What poetic devices are used in "A Song of Hope" by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, and what's their effect?

In "A Song of Hope" by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, the poet makes use of various poetic devices in order to stress the themes of racism and freedom, and the ending of this injustice against a "darker race." The feelings of hopefulness are evident from the rhyme which gives the poem a fast pace revealing the narrator's anxiousness and anticipation. The reader is left in no doubt that no more time can be wasted because of how "long we waited."  

Parallelism (when a certain structure or pattern is used stressing certain words or repeating them) is also used extensively to support the rhyme and contribute to the rhythm. The grammatical structure and the meter evident from the use of parallelism bring the poem towards a climax and the reader is caught up in the frenzy. One such example is:

When none defame us,

No restriction tame us,

Nor color shame us,...

The reader has an optimistic outlook and even become personally invested in "the glad tomorrow." The future belongs to the people and the use of personification (suggesting that tomorrow can be glad) confirms their rightful place in it.

There is assonance, such as ("the juster justice") and alliteration ("plan the promise") and these ensure that "all doors open." The repetition, particularly of "fathers' fathers" and "children's children" completes the circle and ensures that the sacrifice is recognized and appreciated. Unlike many poems about the struggle for freedom which outline the intensity of that struggle, this poem focuses on a new "Dream Time." 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on