Elegy for drowned children.
Year 12 English
Elegy for drowned children. (pg 60)
An Elegy is a sad or sorrowful poem, reflection or song written for a deceased person and deceased people. An elegy laments a death; it praises the deceased and attempts to find consolation for those who are still alive.
The poem Elegy for drowned children expresses sadness for the children who have passed in the water, but yet leaves some consolation for those left on earth and the ones who have actually survived “the net” of the King, and not drowned.
King Neptune, who is the ruler of the sea, is seen to catch the kids “one by one” in his “sure” net. Dawe suggests that any child is vulnerable to this catch. The metaphor suggested is that humans cannot control the drowning of the children; they cannot control the sea, or water, so they cannot control the uncontrollable.
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Dawe tries to find some meaning in the tragedy of this poem, he shows the grief of parents who think that their children have drowned, yet they have no proof or evidence of this. Dawe leads the reader into a thought passage with his quote “What does he do with them all?” he makes a reader think about loss, for parents who have lost their child and the loss of the child to the world. Dawe uses the word “aching” to describe the pain of the drowning, in reality the poem is aching, because of its sense of sadness.
Dawe continues the coldness of the poem by setting up some sort of consolation, then destroying it. He says that there must be a reason these children are taken. He suggests the water metaphor “plaiting their hair” but this is cold, and almost impersonal, not enough to compensate for such loss.
“The voices of parents calling, calling like birds by the waters edge” The images provoke a thought in the reader that the worried parents are calling out for their missing child and “the little heaps of clothes, the futures carefully planned?” tells of the futures that the children will never know.
However Dawe also deals with the children who have escaped the “net”, there is no tragedy, no grief and this is a stark contrast to a poem that deals with death and sadness. This almost appears to be a dream of these children, maybe in reality they are home safe.
The final images have great power: the inviting sound of the “whispering shore” which has a hidden tragedy, the invitingness of the water to lure kids into the “net”. The earlier victims of the water were caught by this hidden power. But the survivors were able to “plunge” “dive” and “stride” to escape the net, this is almost a sense of adventure. They also experience happiness in the “welcome dream”, and the poem ends on a lighter note of fulfillment and beauty rather than death, sadness and tragedy.
This poem could perhaps be compared to the Soliloquy for One Dead and The Family Man, the experience of death differs in each of these poems, yet they all end up in the same conclusion. Dawe is able to express much emotion through the deaths. The death of a “group” of children in this story could also be compared to the poem “On the Shadows of a Japanese Child Blasted upon a Wall after the Dropping of an Atomic Bomb in 1945” – this deals with the tragedy for the parents and the loss of children and tragedy to a mass killer, the only difference being the atomic bombs reality and King Neptune’s surreal status.
What does he do with them all, the old king:
Having such a shining haul of boys in his sure net,
How does he keep them happy? Lead them to forget the world above, the aching air, birds, spring?
Tender and solicitous must be his care for those whom he takes down into his kingdom one by one.
-why else would they be taken out of the sweet sun, drowning towards him, water plaiting their hair.
Unless he loved them deeply how could he withstand the voices of parents calling, calling like birds by the waters edge, by swimming pool, sandbar, river-bank, rocky ledge.
The little heaps of clothes, the futures carefully planned?
Yet even an old acquisitive king must feel
remorse poisoning his joy. Since he allows particular boys each evening to arouse from leaden-lidded sleep, softly to steal away to the whispering shore, there to plunge in.
And fluid as porpoises swim upward, upward through the dividing water until, soon, each back home is striding over thresholds of welcome dream with wet and moonlit skin.