Sometimes Gladness Essay

The writer’s craft 

A poem sounds itself into speech into words and the symbolic record of that progress lies on the page before us.

Introduction, Sometimes Gladness, p. xix

Bruce Dawe’s skill lies in being able to articulate the complex issues of everyday Australian life using accessible language and imagery. His themes are therefore centred on everyday issues that affect everyday people. He is also a poet with a strong social conscience and this is evident in the way he takes topical issues such as unemployment and develops a sensitive perspective.

Dawe’s themes include:

The index of themes (pp. 323-27) suggests some ways that the poems can be studied under themes, but these themes are not exhaustive.

Poetic forms

Dawe favours free verse but he also uses rhymed forms and for some poems he employs the sonnet form. Free verse allows for the development of an idea in a free form that appeals to the modern audience in being more prose-like. Dawe’s forte can be seen in the strong characterisation emerging in the number of dramatic monologues that address the reader on controversial issues such as hanging or nuclear war.

He also includes narrative poems. A poem such as ‘At Shagger’s Funeral’ captures the tone of Paterson’s bush ballads with a touch of humour for Shagger, with ‘the old shag-wagon’ ‘caught with his britches down’ at the end.

Look at the index (pp 328-332) for the list of different forms but be aware that this does not include forms such as narrative.

Text and meaning

Close study of atheme: the War Poems – a comparison Year 9 activity:

Interpret, analyse and evaluate how different perspectives of issues, events, situations, individuals or groups are constructed to serve specific purposes in texts.

Poems to use for this activity are: ‘Homecoming’, ‘Weapons Training’, ‘Vietnam Postscript, 1975’.

Inan interview in 1997, Bruce Dawe spoke with Robin Hughes and said this about the Vietnam War: ‘But it [the Vietnam War] was all a nonsense, and a very tragic one, to me, and I wrote out of that sense of the tragedy of it’. Watchthis interview extractof Dawe talking about his war poems(the transcriptis also available).

Dawe was in the RAAF but his only war experience overseas was a posting to Malaysia. Therefore, his poems about war might draw from some experience but they are more about Dawe, the man with the social conscience, speaking out against what he perceived to be a useless war.

These three poems have very different approaches to the same war. Students can complete this close activity with examples.

‘Homecoming’ (1968)

‘Homecoming’ is written in the third person. A significant feature of the poem is the use of present continuous tense (ending in –ing) and repeated phrases to indicate ongoing and extended activity. The opening is filled with lists of actions (…………………………. ), descriptions of transport (…………………………) and types of soldiers identified by their hair (………………………………..). Commas are used to divide the extended lists and create the sense of the pace of the action, while dashes stop the reading for a new action. The scale of the official evacuation is impersonal compared to the ‘noble jets’ bringing them home (‘with ………………………..’). The longing to come home is focused in the repletion of (………………………). The landscapes that the plane flies over are (……………………..). In the final lines an elegiac sense of mourning enters and spreads as the (………………………………………………………….). The paradox of a homecoming for those who are dead is expressed in the final line (……………………………………………………).

  • Listen to a reading of ‘Homecoming‘ after studying the poem. Does this reading capture the feelings you sense in the poem? Explain your attitude.
  • Watch this student video of the poem and assess its merits against another video.
  • Use the format of the ‘Homecoming’ discussion above to create a paragraph on each of the other poems: ‘Weapons Training’ and ‘Vietnam Postscript, 1975’.

‘Weapons Training’

Students can consider these comments by Dawe (2008) when exploring this poem: ‘In‘Weapons Trainingthe metaphors used are from the common stock of such language which has its equivalents wherever military training is needed. (Written later, during the Vietnam War, the racist references were obligatory.) As the focus for this process of stripping-down and re-assembling for recruits, I chose the machine-gun drill then in use. It is the weapons instructor who is speaking to a squad of new recruits.’

  • Find examples of the metaphors ‘from the common stock of such language which has its equivalents wherever military training is needed’
  • Why is this poem so shocking?
  • How does the poet capture the sound of ‘machine gun drill’
  • What is Dawe saying about war?

Students can use these openings to write about ‘Vietnam Postscript, 1975’ or other war poems.

  • ‘Vietnam Postscript. 1975’ is written in ………………….
  • A significant feature of the poem is …………………
  • The opening is ……………………
  • (Punctuation – name the punctuation or lack of) is used to ………………….
  • The (discuss any extended idea) ……………………
  • In the final lines ………………………………………………..

Once each poem has been considered individually, they can be compared in a table like the one below:

Poem Subject matter   Theme                 Style (language)   Effect                   
‘Weapons Training’
‘Vietnam Postscript, 1975’

Close study of form: dramatic monologue
‘More often I tend to work at an issue through a particular character who’s identified negatively or positively with a particular issue.’ Bruce Bennett and Brian Dibble, 1979, ‘An interview with Bruce Dawe’ in Westerly.


A dramatic monologue is a piece of writing capturing one person’s voice and directly addressing the reader. It has dramatic elements in being able to be performed.

‘A Victorian Hangman Tells his Love’

One of the most powerful dramatic monologues in the book is the poem ‘A Victorian Hangman Tells his Love’ (p. 79). The poem can also be studied thematically alongside ‘On the Death of Ronald Ryan’ (p.80) and ‘The sting’ (p. 81).

Ask a student who also studies drama to present this to the class as a reading – give some practise time first.

The event: Context

It is imperative to teach the context of this poem:

  • The Australian Coalition Against the Death Penalty (ACADP) have a website on Ronald Ryan
  • The Herald Sun True Crime Scene article on Ryan will also capture the imagination of students using crime photos as support.

Ask students:

  • Why is this event so interesting or important? What issues does it raise?


Victorian = Victorian period when gaols were being revolutionised
Victoria = the state where the last hanging took place.
hangman linked withlove  – explain the paradox.

Voice and tone

As with all dramatic monologues, the voice of the speaker is important in creating a sense of the character of the person. Voice in writing is developed through choice and organisation of words. The only clues we have are through what this person chooses to say and how he says it, starting with the opening line:

Dear one, forgive my appearing before you like this

Ask students:

  • Which of the following words best describes the tone of the first line and the whole poem. Why?
    • informative, old fashioned, casual, formal, unexpected, official, gentle, respectful, insolent, ambiguous, offhand, callous, misanthropic, sympathetic, empathetic, conspiratorial, angry
  • Who is he addressing?
  • One of the limitations of dramatic monologue is that we cannot hear other voices. How does this poem allow us to witness the other character?
  • What kind of person do you think this hangman is?

The voice is instrumental in creating a mood. How would you describe the mood of this poem and how it makes you feel?


Ask students to note the interplay of first person and second person pronouns. It may be useful to set up a table such as the one below to show the movement between the two characters. Don’t give all the answers but ask students to collect these.

Ask students:

  • What insight do we gain about the way the poem is structured?
  • Consider the process of the hanging and how each part of the poem reflects the process.
First person Second person The process of the hanging
I would have comeIf I must bind your armsI would dispense withI know your heart isI trustYou have dreamed about this moment of consummationIf you have anything to sayYou did not rejectPreparing for the hanging
Let us now walk a stepWe’re wedThe hanging
I slip itAllow me to adjustI, alas, am not yet fit to shareYou have been given a clean bill of healthYou will go forthYou will sinkAccept your roleYou are this evening’s headlines.The report after the hanging

Time and verbs

Another way of understanding the movement of the poem is to look at the verbs. This poem moves between the actions taking place (present tense), the events that follow (future tense) and possibilities (modal verbs).

Students can highlight all the verb groups (this includes any auxiliary/modal), remembering that verbs are usually more than one word except in simple tenses such as simple present, which is also used here.

Students should consider:

  • Why does this poem favour the present simple tense?
  • When is passive voice used and who is it applied to? Consider why.
  • What future is suggested by the poem?

Metaphors and similes

This poem depends on the sustained metaphor of a marriage that begins from the title in the word ‘love’.

Students should trace all the references to the ritual of a wedding on the table below – relating them to the hanging ritual. These can include the phrasing and any similes that also relate to the wedding.

They should explain the effect of this unexpected metaphor.

Wedding                                               Hanging  

What other metaphors and similes can students find and what is their effect?

Punctuation and line length

Bruce Dawe does not have one style of punctuation for all his poems. Some poems follow the formal convention of starting each line with a capital but this poem does not. Instead it uses enjambment as the lines move fluidly through the hangman’s speech. Students should consider: Why would this poem about a formal event like a hanging ignore the formality of punctuation? What attitude to the hanging would this convey?

Other punctuation features are the use of ellipsis marks and dashes. Students should note where these occur and give an explanation about the effect.

The other feature is line length. Line length is an important visual cue to something that stands out – this can be as simple as creating a visual effect of movement or it can contrast with something else in the poem.

Three lines stand out because they are relatively shorter than the others and students should consider why this is so.

I would have come

. . .

modern bride.

With this spring of mine

Evaluate the poem

The following is an extract from an interview with Bruce Dawe in which he talks about the poem ‘The Victorian Hangman Tells his Love’.

DAWE: . . . And even in the hangman poem, if one takes it slowly, it couldn’t be said that I was really attacking the hangman, but was seeing him as a victim of the State policy just as much as the more obvious victim, the person being hanged.

BENNETT:In that case you seem to be particularly interested in the language of deception, of bureaucracy and of State officialdom. You seem to be enjoying, in the process, the language that you’re satirizing. Is that right?

DAWE:Yes, I think so. In that one in particular I think I had in mind the way in which even those who are bureaucratic (and the word isn’t necessarily a derogatory word, though it’s often used that way) themselves may only be the expressions of bureaucracy. The people typified may be themselves caught in something much larger than they can handle. They themselves don’t know the answer to the problem but are merely acting out certain roles as in fact a hangman is. One is not really indicting the hangman per se at all. One is indicting a general philosophy. That may be why the bureaucracy is merely the instrument of putting into effect that philosophy.

More recently in 2008 Dawe said: ‘The hangman’s apologetic speech in this monologue (echoing Miles Malleson’s warden in Kind Hearts and Coronets) I also based loosely on the Elizabethan courtly love tradition – hence the title, ‘Victoria Hangman tells his love’. In this convention, the frustrated lover is usually dying of unrequited love, and is embarrassed by his situation. In this poem there is a marriage (a matter of life and death), an altar (the scaffold), a public context with the public in ritual attendance, and a lover (the hangman) shamed by his situation.’

Students can write an extended response using this extract and answering:

  • How effectively did Dawe achieve his purpose in this poem?

(Extra reading on the poem: John M. Wright, ‘Bruce Dawe’s poetry’,Westerly, 1974.)



Synthesising task/activity

Following a theme

1.Analytical: Read the other war poems listed in the index (p. 324) and select 2-3 to discuss. Write a comparative essay on Dawe’s war poems. Develop your own thesis to argue. An exampleof a comparative essay on war can be found on the internet.

2.Imaginative: Work in groups to create a new poem. Each student can take one poem from the list on page 324 and find one line they like best. These lines are presented to the groups. Each group then forms a new poem using these lines. They may have to add their own lines in between to make the new poem work. Present this to the class.

The dramatic monologue

1. Composing and performing

Students should read the newspapers to locate an event that interests them. They can then consider the features of a dramatic monologue as described by Bruce Dawe in the Judith Wright lectureto the Poets Union in 2008: ‘The dramatic monologue as a form can appeal to us for a number of obvious reasons. Firstly, it is direct speech; it cuts out the middle-man, the go-between. The distancing conventions are abolished . . . A second advantage from the point of view of the author is that, if successful, such dramatic monologues pay a compliment to the reader/audience. The author says: Here they are, they are yours; make of them what you will . . .

A third advantage the dramatic monologue may have for writers is that it can solve one of the major problems we face: how to be aesthetically objective when our feelings are so strongly engaged as to make it unlikely . . . the impetus of speech-patterns as they develop in a dramatic monologue are of central importance. Lose the rhythm, and you’ve lost the thread through the maze of the experience.’

With these comments on the form in mind, students can then compose their own dramatic monologue on an issue they have located in the news which they perform to the class.

In preparation for writing the monologue students will need to:

  • choose a speaker who would provide an interesting perspective on the event or issue
  • consider the character of that speaker
  • decide how they will communicate his/her/its voice and attitude.

2. Composing an analytical piece of writing 

Students can use the close study above as a model and conduct their own studies of another of Dawe’s monologues listed on page 330. They can either:

a. Write a critical essay on their own choice of dramatic monologue, developing a thesis that they can argue, OR

b. Write a comparative study of two dramatic monologues discussing the way Dawe uses dramatic monologue form to reflect on important social issues.

Analysis of the Poem Enter without So Much As Knocking by ruce Dawe

615 Words3 Pages

‘Enter Without So Much As Knocking’ by an ex-Vietnam veteran Bruce Dawe was published in 1959 and can be found in his Sometimes Gladness: Collected Poems 1954-1992. ‘Enter Without So Much As Knocking’ shows how consumerism has a negative effect on society. The poem portrays the life of a typical man who is living in the suburbs. It begins with the birth of a child. As the baby begins to observe the world he has been brought into, he sees instructions, signs and expectation. Dawe stresses the point of the first thing that the baby heard, a voice of consumerism on television opposed to a loving and comfortable family. The baby has been brought into a materialistic world, a world where such a significant event has just taken place, a new…show more content…

‘Enter Without So Much As Knocking’ by an ex-Vietnam veteran Bruce Dawe was published in 1959 and can be found in his Sometimes Gladness: Collected Poems 1954-1992. ‘Enter Without So Much As Knocking’ shows how consumerism has a negative effect on society. The poem portrays the life of a typical man who is living in the suburbs. It begins with the birth of a child. As the baby begins to observe the world he has been brought into, he sees instructions, signs and expectation. Dawe stresses the point of the first thing that the baby heard, a voice of consumerism on television opposed to a loving and comfortable family. The baby has been brought into a materialistic world, a world where such a significant event has just taken place, a new member to the family has been born yet the television is on and Bobby Dazzler is speaking his fakeness to the household.
At the time of publication in 1959, ‘Enter Without So Much As Knocking,’ Dawe was in the Airforce in the education section, where he remained there for nine years. The post period of the 1950’s and 1960’s was a time of prosperity when society and social values were changing. His impression of this atmosphere displays his concerns for the people falling into the significant trap of the new shiny, modern, and crowded lifestyle. Dawe sought to address this issue through ‘Enter Without So Much As Knocking.’
‘Enter Without So Much As knocking’ is a 33 line poem consisting of 7 stanzas of: 7, 6, 11, 9 and 2 lines. The poem is a

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