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enter without so much as knocking  - Bruce Dawe


Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

(Epigraph: Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.)




 

Blink, blink. HOSPITAL. SILENCE.

Ten days old, carried in the front door in his

mother's arms, first thing he heard was

Bobby Dazzler on Channel 7:

Hello, hello hello all you lucky people and he

really was lucky because it didn't mean a thing

to him then...

                      A year or two to settle in and

get acquainted with the set-up; like every other

well-equipped smoothly-run household, his included

one economy-size Mum, one Anthony Squires-

Coolstream-Summerweight Dad, along with two other kids

straight off the Junior Department rack.

              

                              When Mom won the

Luck's-A-Fortch Tricky-Tune Quiz she took him shopping

in the good-as-new station-wagon (£ 495 dep. at Reno's).

Beep, beep. WALK. DON'T WALK. TURN

LEFT. NO PARKING. WAIT HERE. NO

SMOKING. KEEP CLEAR/OUT/OFF GRASS. NO

BREATHING EXCEPT BY ORDER. BEWARE OF

THIS. WATCH OUT FOR THAT. My God (beep)

the congestion here just gets (beep)

worse every day, now what the (beep beep) does

that idiot think he's doing (beep beep and BEEP).

              

However, what he enjoyed most of all was when they

went to the late show at the local drive-in, on a clear night

and he could see (beyond the fifty-foot screen where

giant faces forever snarled screamed or make

incomprehensible and monstrous love) a pure

unadulterated fringe of sky, littered with stars

no-one had got around to fixing up yet: he'd watch them

circling about in luminous groups like kids at the circus

who never go quite close enough to the elephant to get kicked.

 

Anyway, pretty soon he was old enough to be

realistic like every other godless

money-hungry back-stabbing miserable

so-and-so, and then it was goodbye stars and the soft

cry in the corner when no-one was looking because

I'm telling you straight, Jim, it's Number One every time

for this chicken, hit wherever you see a head and

kick whoever's down, well thanks for a lovely

evening Clare, it's good to get away from it all

once in a while, I mean it's a real battle all the way

and a man can't help but feel a little soiled, himself,

at times, you know what I mean?

 

                                Now take it easy

on those curves, Alice, for God's sake,

I've had enough for one night, with that Clare Jessup,

hey, ease up, will you, watch it --

 

                                    Probity & Sons, Morticians,

did a really first-class job on his face

(everyone was very pleased) even adding a

healthy tan he'd never had, living, gave him back for keeps

the old automatic smile with nothing behind it,

winding the whole show up with a

nice ride out to the underground metropolis

permanent residentials, no parking tickets, no taximeters

ticking, no Bobby Dazzlers here, no down payments,

nobody grieving over halitosis

flat feet, shrinking gums, falling hair.

 

Six feet down nobody interested.

 

Blink, blink. CEMETERY. Silence.

                       

Analysis of  enter without so much as knocking – 1956 -9 

We enter the world rudely, without warning, at awkward inconvenient times, intruding into parent’s lives without consideration and can just as abruptly leave this world.

The pretentious Latin caption is the beginning of a Priest’s incantation prior to an Ash Wednesday mass.

 
“Remember man that you are dust and to dust you shall return”

I. SOUND EFFECTS

Contrast of silence to a crescendo of noise modulating and a return to silence.

Onomatopoeic words — Beep, Beep - racy rapid pace. The parenthetical beeps could represent, apart from the obvious car horn, a censorship of swear words. Imagery of the "rat race" - the frustration culminates in a final BEEP.

Noise words: Bobby Dazzler, traffic; (beep beep and BEEP), giant

faces snarled and screamed.., accident.

 

II. SUBJECT MATTER

* “Blink, Blink..” Life is short, and over before you know it.

* Traces the rites of passage from cradle to the grave.

* Social commentary from perspective of various phases of life.

III, TONE

* Varies from gentle sympathetic to subtle satiric as the persona passes from one phase of life to another: objective, sardonic, sarcastic, parodic, cynical disrespectful. flippant, demotive, detached; undercutting pomposity and eroding the falsity and solemnity of any pretence.

 

* fast racy, hectic pace of childhood congested life in the fast lane.

* imperative tone during adolescence of sign posts “No Breathing!”

* impersonal, depersonalised – no names of family members.  The family has no warmth or closeness.

* irony and satire of last stanza.

IV. POETIC TECHNIQUES

* anonymous archetypal male of the lucky country

* Not didactic - rather we are left to draw our own conclusions.

Dramatised scenes

- much of the narrative is acted out;  including direct speech - creates realism; verisimilitudeness.

 

Contrast:

Innocence, idealism of youth

realism of experience

wonderment of stars

 

“godless money—hungry.

sensitivity “soft cry..”

 

ruthlessness “head kicking”

 

Natural beauty

 

man-made “fixing ..“

 

1st class mortician’s job

 

image in real life

 

silence of: baby’s sleep! cemetery

 

Noise of city life

 

 

Omission  (ellipsis)

Much of narrative is left out to be filled in by readers – his death is represented by a -  dash.

 

The trail-off sentences have conveyed three meanings: they show cynicism, are similar to rhetorical questions, and lead into the next stage of his life.

 

Three of the stanzas in youth and middle age begin with link words:  However,  Anyway, Now,  - They represent the fast pace of the poem and life.

 

Humour

— caricatures - exaggeration, irony. ex:

 

Motifs — provide unity, cohesion - togetherness.

- Cars (name?)

- Bobby Dazzler

- No....

- stars.. Consider the alternative meanings of "stars" - movie stars, aspirations.

 

Figurative language -

ex:   “underground metropolis

permanent residentials”,

 

Stressed words at beginning of new line:

ex:     “ unadulterated fringe of sky”

“ kick whoever’s down”

 

Language

Dawe is renowned for his exceptional ear for the tones, patterns, rhythms, cadences and resonances of the Australian vernacular idiomatic speech. Like Henry Lawson before him and countless others since (David Williamson), Dawe strives to imitate the tribal voice he hears the ordinary (battlers) Australian speak. His wide variety of occupations, and the unusual range of people he has met enriched his language and he is able to reproduce authentic echoes of the flexible, colourful and diverse Australian colloquialisms and slang which he surreptitiously slips into what at first sight appears solemn poetry:

“even adding a healthy tan he’d never had living, gave him back for keeps

the old automatic smile with nothing behind it...”

Slipping In the parenthetical “back for keeps” undercuts any suggestion of seriousness we might have entertained in what might have been potentially a very emotional and tragic premature death. The net effect is that we become alienated or detached from his death and consider it objectively.

 

You will find many examples of dry Australianisms in Dawe’s poetry

 

a) Language used as a weapon of satire, sarcasm to deflate, erode, subvert or undercut accepted myths, traditions.

 

First stanza speaks of a baby waking into life. The sentences are deliberately short and simple. The baby takes in the hospital, sees signs and expectations.

 

i) lucky - We’re known as the Lucky country yet as we grow older our luck runs out and we have to fend for ourselves. - false heartiness

ii  “economy sized mum “  - commercial standardised, commercialised

iii)   “settle in”   - casual idiom.  Breezy confidant language of T.V. hosts

iv)  “Fortch”  - Slang for fortunate - very familiar

 v)   Road side signs - commanding - imperatives

vi)   “No-one had got around to fixing up yet “- our compulsion to improve on nature.   

vii)  harsh turns of phrase  - "back-stabbing", "money-hungry" Aggressive language of ambitious business world.

 

viii)   Mixture of colloquial and formal language:

 

Colloquial

formal

“economy sized mum

incomprehensible and monstrous love

settle in”  

Halitosis – Morticians

Fortch”  - Slang

Probity  (honesty – sincerity)

 

b) ambiguity: (equivocations, double entendres, nuances) 

Poetry communicates by what is suggested and each responder gleans meaning through inferences.

curves

first class job

winding the whole show up

interested

soiled  

c) connotations - word associations:

i)  “real”   - pragmatism?, Machiavellian?, compromise of Ideals? Realpolitik’s? unscrupulous? ruthlessness.

ii)  “soiled ‘ - compromise? guilt? dirtied - bed sheets with bodily fluids?

iii) “hit whenever you see a head and kick whoever’s down

 aggressive yuppie mentality - rapacious and predatory nature of the modem business world.

iv)  “Probity”  - integrity, uprightness, genuine, sincerity, (irony)

 

d) Euphemisms -

Morticians rather than undertakers.

          Halitosis for bad breath

e) Oxymoron

 monstrous love

Themes,  issues, concerns

Below are some of the possible themes of the poem. Find evidence for the theme, discuss its relevance. You may find other themes as well.

1)  Life is short, nasty and brutish – Hobbes

2)  Life is predictable;, humdrum, sterile;, meaningless, pointless.

The speed of the poem reflects the pace of life while the detachment and lack of emotion indicates the lack of meaning, caring or compassion.

3)  Modern Man is obsessed with commercialism, materialism.

 

Well-equipped, smoothly-run, economy-size: these compound words are commonly used in advertising, as if the life is being sold to the child. This is reinforced by the use of a list, and the use of stereotypes, both of which are impersonal.

Economy-sized Mum ... is a sexist description and is a typical stereotype of the 50s.

Anthony Squires - Coolstream - Summerweight Dad Anthony Squires is an Australian brand of suit.  

Straight off the Junior Department rack.
These children have no names, gender or description (Except to point out that they are wearing what everyone else their age wears). Everything about the family is described in sexist, standardised, depersonalised tones. The family has not grown - it has been bought and constructed.

 

Luck's-A-fortch Tricky-Tune-Quiz
Note the capitals: the emphasis is over-the-top. Evidence of consumerism (and sexism) again - after winning the quiz, Mum chose to celebrate by taking him shopping.

Good-as-new station-wagon - more consumerism. it's not "second hand", it's "good as new". The price of 495 pounds would have been very expensive for a car. Also note that a station wagon is room enough to carry the 2.3 children that was the national average.

Consumerism demonstrates the shallowness and hypocrisy of modern ideals and values.

 

In rich countries, consumption consists of people spending money they don’t have to buy goods they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

 

4)   Life is predatory; a struggle; us against the world Everyone for themself.

realistic like every other godless

money-hungry back-stabbing miserable

so-and-so,

 

5)    Modern man needs to dominate and mould nature to their tastes

The stars are “littered across the sky”  Something “no one  had got around to fixing up yet.”

 

6)   We judge everything by appearances

 Bobby Dazzler's false heartiness reflects the false, materialistic nature of the world into which the child has been born. "Hello, hello, hello all you lucky people". This is immediately followed by a cynical comment from the narrator (and he really was lucky because it didn't mean a thing to him then) - Bobby Dazzler doesn't have an impact on the child's life - yet: the child is lucky because he is innocent of the falseness of society. Note the irony of this comment in contrast to the rest of the stanza.

.7)  People can become callous about death.

The callousness of everyone around him - a person has just died, and people are paying attention to the make-up on his face. Confirmed by the apathetic and unemotional reaction of observers: (Everyone was very pleased) - he's dead, but he looks good.

the old automatic smile with nothing behind it- shows the extent of the facade he had developed in order to fit in with society, which kills genuine emotional responses and individualism, and encourages conformity. The whole idea of the funeral directors making him look good ties in with the theme of the hypocrisy of society - the ultimate comment on society is that with "that automatic smile with nothing behind it", the man might as well have been dead even before the accident: "He was dead before he was killed".

winding the whole show up - this man's life was like a TV show, which is now finishing, hence the jokey, happy talk show host-style narrative, with undertones of bitterness and irony. This also winds up the poem.

Underground metropolis - ie, the necropolis. Even in death, the man cannot escape the metropolis.

Like a talk show host or an advertisement, the narrative breezes over items, as if to generate interest: permanent residentials, no underground parking, etc. Even death is cheapened and sold.

 

8)  People are too ashamed to have a soft cry in the corner because they have given in to a society which is emotionally bankrupt and centred on the illusion of getting ahead.


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