“Homo Suburbiensis” by Bruce Dawe
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Introduction: “Homo Suburbiensis” is as much a poem about the human condition, as it is a record of one man’s escape from the demands of his existence. “Homo Suburbiensis” uses one man’s escape from his demands to represent our universal need to contemplate and resolve our own uncertainties in life in our own special place. Dawe uses a series of imagery to depict the workings of our minds and a chain of unpleasent sensory experiences to illustrate unwanted intrusions in our lives. Through the vague depictions of these intrusions Dawe urges us not to give great attention to them, but to offer to the world, our most truthful emotions and thoughts.
“The man” in the poem is not just a one individual. Dawe suggests this in his title “Homo Suburbiensis”. He has classified that man as an example of a whole (invented) species, as “Homo Suburbiensis”. The invention of the Latin sounding word “Suburbiensis” is a reference to those of us who live in the suburbs and the suburbians being a status allusion to the ordinary, working class people. So the title is “Homo Suburbiensis”, leads us to believe that “the man” is not an individual but a metaphor for the ordinary people of Australia.
“…Patch of vegetables” in the first stanza can be seen as the private territory of “the man” as it is “…his patch of vegetables”. The “…patch of vegetables” which is in the garden, could be seen as parallel to the Garden of Eden. Eden is seen as a paradise for the man and this garden is also being a paradise to this man. This “…patch of vegetables” as a sanctuary is again implied in the third line of the same stanza by the ambiguity of the word “things”. Dawe could have used the word “tools” but instead he chose the word “things” in the line: “…all the ‘things’ he takes down with him there”. This hints that the man does not have to take physical tools with him down to the vegetable patch, but also thoughts and problems that he has with life. This indicates that the “…patch of vegetables” is indeed a sanctuary for his thoughts.
In the second stanza Dawe seems to describe what the man’s garden is like: “… The hoarse rasping tendrils of the pumpkin flourish…” This wild chaotic description of his garden could also be a metaphor for the man’s thoughts. The man’s thoughts are flourishing running wildly like “The hoarse rasping tendrils…” His thoughts are not perfectly formed so they are like “clumsy whips” and they’re random and unordered like the “foliage” when it “sprawls”.
Nevertheless the man’s thoughts are not all chaotic. There are formal structures in the garden mentioned in the third stanza. The “compost box” and “palings”, these ordered elements of the garden could stand for the staple in the man’s thoughts like his family or his work. Even though they are stable occupants of the man’s mind, these objects are covered with the unruly foliage. This could signify the constant unexpected musing the man has about his family or any staple in his life.
Intrusions like “… hearing a dog…”interrupt the man’s thoughts this signifies the trivial events in the man’s life. Through the distant nature at which Dawe portrays these events it suggests that we are not supposed to pay attention to the likes of these events. Like ” a far whisper of the traffic” which does not affect us, some things in the man’s life are not worth paying attention or thought to.
These interruptions are then boldly contrasted with the final stanza, a listing of what the man has offered to the world. “Time, pain, love, hate, age, war, death, laughter, fever.” this could be seen as a suggestion by Dawe that we (represented by the man) should offer all of ourselves to the world, our most truthful whether it be love or hate, or even our pain. The last word “fever”, is not seen as a disease or illness in this context, but a willingness to live life. A frenzied want to experience and show the world all of our selves and our individuality. This simple word implies Dawe’s whole message that an ordinary man, can live, feel and be in a “world of variables” and have a very fulfilled life.
Dawe’s poem “Homo Suburbiensis” could be read at face value as descriptions of a man escaping the demands of his life. But within the lines and the imagery, it incases a whole worth of meaning and of Dawe’s view on the human condition. Objects are no longer just objects but a metaphor for our emotions and our actions. Dawe has included his opinion, his philosophy and his way of life into this one poem, a simple describing of a man’s escape to his garden.