HSC Notes: 2 Unit General English: Bruce Dawe
For Craig McGregor
One constant in a world of variables
-- A man alone in the evening in his patch of vegetables,
and all the things he takes down with him there
Where the easement runs along the back fence and the air
smells of tomato-vines, and the hoarse rasping tendrils
of pumpkin flourish clumsy whips and their foliage sprawls
Over the compost-box, poising rampant upon
the palings ...
He stands there, lost in a green
confusion, smelling the smoke of somebody's rubbish
Burning, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk
in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,
a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead
Not much but as much as any man can offer
-- time, pain, love, hate, age, ware, death, laughter, fever.
- Constant is a poisitive comment, he is alone
with his thoughts, static and unchanging, while
the world outside continues on oblivious.
- Patch of vegetables is his territory - a place
where he can vent his frustrations by gardening,
a place where he has total control, with things
he has grown himself.
- evening - ie, the man cannot be alone with
his thoughts while doing the day's work, he is
only free after the work is complete.
- It is interesting to note that the mark of a
civilisation in the old times, was the fact that
they had mastered agriculture, in order to feed
the people through people specialising into
different fields. This implied different classes,
eg an educated class, a farming class, and this
eventually led to civilisation. Some ancient
civilisations, eg Babylon, paid a lot of attention
- Also note the parallel to the Garden of Eden.
- All the things he takes down with him there -
although not specified, "all the things" can
be the things he carries in his head - thoughts,
feelings, emotional baggage, anything that needs
to be though about and solved - the man can use
his garden for tension release.
- The garden is a place for contemplation, meditation and
working things through. We see an emphasis in the
poem on the man's thoughts and feelings.
- Where the easement runs...: Easement is a
piece of land between properties.
- We can smell, see, touch and hear the garden through
various descriptions in this stanza and the
following one. Note thtat the description is
slightly detached - we are observing the man like
a specimen in a tank. This is reflected in the
title, a Latin-sounding (but invented) word to
describe this type of man.
- The pumpkin is almost alive - it is "clumsy" and it
"sprawls", like the progress of human civilisation,
very slowly expanding, and expanding clumsily.
Contrast the action usually associated with whips
(ie, the whipcrack) with "clumsy whips" of the
pumpkin: the sprawly of civilisation may be slow,
but it will progress as inexorably as if it were
driven with a whip.
- The Rampant is significant in heraldry, where
heraldic animals pose rampant on shields. Suggests
the way the vines are curled back on themselves -
strong, proud, and potentially dangerous.
- the palings ... - the way the sentence trails
off is important. It trails off like the plant
itself, and also suggests the end of the physical
description of the garden - the man's focus has
drifted elsewhere: he was possibly daydreaming
while standing in his garden.
- The pace picks up again - the indentation before
He stands makes us focus back on him, and
the poem now focuses on him too, and what he feels
- The idea that he is deep in thought is further brought
out in Stanza 4 with the use of the words "lost"
- The "green confusion" is like a buffer against noise -
the garden's potential is seen, but at the moment
it is only slighly tamed. We can see the wildness
of the garden - the plants are wild and confused,
similar to his thoughts before he arrived.
- Our senses are aroused here. Smelling, hearing, seeing,
gfeeling the things the man does. Somebody's
rubbish / Burning, Hearing vaguely,
Hearing a dog, a kid, whisper of
traffic. These sounds are the only things which
intrude on his refuge and remind us that the garden
is in suburbia. However, he is lost in his thoughts
and only hears "vaguely". A sink that could be
his shows that he has taken the sound in, but
not thought over them enough to recognise them.
- offering up instead / Not much - he is
"offering up" perhaps to a deity. He can't offer
up great or corageous deeds, but he can as much
as any human can offer - his life, his experiences.
- time - the time he has spent being a father,
and his experiences. Time he can still give before
- pain, love - what of pain and love he has
already experienced, and what he will experience
in the future.
- hate, age, war, death - all these things we
go through and give to the world in the form of
experience, even though we may not know it.
- laughter stands out from the rest - it is
two syllables long, unlike the list so far -
it implies joy and peace. We can see at this point
that the poem is a song of praise to the ordinary
person, giving what small things they can to the
- fever is not necessarily a negative word -
it could represent intense emotion of any sort,
and perhaps could sum up the rest of the list.
However it also suggests sickness and death,
and is unpredictable in nature.
- The poem is celebrating that although this man may be
ordinary, the very act of being alive can be a
celebration, like the growing of plants: it is not
the quantity of what you give, but the quality.
(back to the main HSC info page).
- The garden represents the mind - chaotic when wild, but
when structured, of surpassing beauty, like a
well-kept garden. The man's thoughts, as represented
by the garden, may seem chaotic but there is order
there - in the compost box, etc.
- The title, Homo Suburbiensis, is a parody of
scientific classification methods: Man of the
Suburbs, and generally the poet views the man
as the scientist would a specimen: interested, but
with detachment, and perhaps a quiet joy in the
beauty of it all.