The Human Experience in Bruce Dawe’s Poetry

A poet who energetically contemplated the world around him, Dawe wasn’t just a devoted Australian wordsmith with a dream that his work would one day be analysed. He was a book full of ideas, complex ideas, often about the essence of life and beyond. Through his poems Bedroom Conversations, Up The Wall, and Enter Without So Much As Knocking, Dawe presents his intricate view of the human experience in an interesting light, one that illuminates both the paradoxes and the cynicism of our world.

Bruce Dawe explores the human experience as a paradoxical cycle that is heavily dependent on the cynical nature of society. Although this nature brings society together through consumerism and materialism, it simultaneously tears them apart. Disjointed and disconnected relationships are formed due to the inability, or unwillingness rather, to completely empathise with differing worldviews. These severed relationships create a strong sense of un-fulfilment, leaving individuals with a longing for ‘something more’; desires to ‘complete’ their world. However, society’s cynical nature ensures these desires are unreached, leaving only chaos behind.

Throughout Bedroom Conversations and Enter Without So Much As Knocking, Dawe explores the human experience by highlighting society’s cynical nature. The vain qualities that humans encompass are adopted from the world around them. This creates a cycle which continues to shape and manipulate each new generation. Written in 1959, Enter Without So Much As Knocking demonstrates the effect of the post-war consumerism inflation. The line “Ten days old…first thing he heard was Bobby Dazzler on Channel 7” promptly sets the scene of a baby boy, born into an egocentric world. The absence of emotion and the cultural allusion to ‘Bobby Dazzler’ illustrate this society’s value of materialism over the celebration of life. Stanza five further reveals human cynicism through the metaphor “Hit wherever you see a head and kick whoever’s down,” demonstrating the influence of a self-absorbed world on an individual. Similarly, vanity is recognised in the two young girls from Bedroom Conversations. They become distracted by their own reflections when they “Pause suddenly as they pass before the mirror”. The pause highlights the short attention span and flighty thinking of the children, while the mirror symbolises how vanity shapes their experiences. Through these poems, it is clear that cynical human nature adopted from society impacts an individual’s experiences.

Society’s cynical nature results in the disjunction of relationships. Dawe illustrates how humans are unable to empathise with other worldviews. Up The Wall highlights a typical 60s view of the relationship between a self-absorbed, oblivious husband and hardworking wife. Written as a response to the Sexual Revolution, it voices a woman’s perspective which, before this era, was silenced. The rhyme scheme of the first stanza represents the housewife’s routine, however, it is ironic as her routine creates chaos rather than order. The perfunctory statement “‘It’s a quiet neighbourhood,’ he tells his friends” reflects the husband’s mental separation from his wife as he is oblivious to her struggles. This correlates with the disconnected relationships displayed in Enter Without So Much As Knocking. In the final stanza, the absence of emotion at the subject’s funeral portrays his unimportance to society, highlighted by the metaphor “Six feet down nobody interested” while “Blink, blink. CEMETARY. Silence.” mirrors the opening line. This implies that from birth to death, the cynical nature of society prevented any solid relationship. These disconnections create a sense of ‘incompleteness’ that individuals attempt to fulfil but are unsuccessful due to the self-absorbed nature of society.

Dawe expresses the human experience through desires that can never be fulfilled. Humans try to fill the emptiness created by severed relationships through worldly desires. Bedroom Conversations portrays this desire as knowledge, sought by the children. However, they are distracted by their own vanity resulting in their ‘incomplete world’. This is portrayed through the metaphor “Just one flick and they’re gone” reflecting their small capacity for the knowledge which they desire. Up The Wall shares a similar idea, where the housewife longs for order in her home and recognition for her hard work, yet can never receive this. The final perfunctory statements “They laugh. The matter ends.” demonstrate how the husband has the upper hand, and his cynical nature ultimately cost his wife her sanity. Through these examples, Bruce Dawe portrays the human experience through the overall ‘incompleteness’ of an individual’s world, shaped by the cynical nature of society.

Bruce Dawe explores the fundamentals of the human experience through the consequences of a cynical society, resulting in chaos. It is a paradoxical experience where cynicism is an important factor that keeps society together, yet simultaneously destroys relationships, creating worldly desires. However, the incapability to fulfil these desires leaves individuals empty and incomplete. These factors ultimately impact the human experience and create its chaotic nature.