Enter without So Much as Knocking Commentary
Bruce Dawe is a contemporary Australian poet who in interviews has stated that he is very interested in placing ordinary things alongside extraordinary things. As an example, in one of his poems he places the word, cornflakes, alongside a serious matter of death. Strategically, Dawe chose the medium of poetry within which to write as it is the best medium through which to convey emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Poetry, by definition, employs many devices such as rhythm and rhymes which apart from diction; give readers a feel for what the poem is all about.
This poem “Enter without So Much as Knocking” is structured with 9 stanzas with one epigraph on top. Each stanza consist different number of lines, except for last two stanzas having a single line. There is no rhyming scheme throughout the whole poem. Bruce Dawe structured out this poem with each stanza representing each stages of human life; starting with birth, toddler, young boy, teenager, adult, car accident and death.
There are differences between the subject and the theme of the poem. In the poem ‘Enter Without So Much as Knocking’, Bruce Dawe brings up the subject of life throughout the poem. However, his theme is different to the subject. Throughout this poem, Dawe brings up themes such as; the human condition, no significances of life and death and adult’s ignorance and their selfishness. Dawe criticises the life of Australians and how they live under the sign which tells them to do and not to do and also they live the life like everyone else, hence nobody cares about life and death.
Starting with the title of the poem, the title “Enter without So Much as Knocking” has two meanings. This title literary means that life of human are just thrown into the world without any explanation of how to survive the world. Another meaning of this title is that, as you are entering without knocking, you are not gaining any attention as you are entering.
This poem starts off with the quote “Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et inpulverm reverteris” which could be translated into “remember, man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return”. Bruce Dawe specifically chose to write this quote in Latin because he wants readers to pay attention in the writing and the choices of words he used to express his theme of human condition, where life is essentially meaningless as we are dust and we will return to dust.
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In the 1st stanza, as it is about the birth, Dawe uses the repetition of the onomatopoeic “blink” to illustrate the actions taken by the people watching the baby. He capitalises the whole phrase “HOSPITAL SLIENCE”, in which to emphasize the importance of the settings and the mood. Dawe mention about “Bobby Dazzler on Channel 7” symbolises typical Australian household. The line spoken by Bobby Dazzler, “all you lucky people”, is ironic and also contains imagery. This is ironic in a way as people who do not rely on game shows are lucky not the ones who are obsessed with it. Furthermore, this line contains imagery where the human life is just a game show. Also, the line “it didn’t mean a thing to him then…” foreshadows the event that will happen later on his life.
The 2nd stanza is when the baby is one or two years old as could be seen through the time compression in line 9. The phrase ‘get acquainted with the set-up’ creates systematic, cold and impersonal tone. This tone contrasts with the usual warmth and sense of uniqueness related with the birth of a child is that child’s life is being mass-produced, just like the rest of the society. Also, Dawe uses advertising terms to describe the average Australian family which has strong connection with baby boomer household. Again, these advertising terms are used to emphasize the poet’s thoughts on life are being sold to child. In line 12, ‘economy-size mum’ is a sexist description and typical stereotype of the 50s. ‘Anthony Squires’ is an Australian brand of suit. In the last line of the stanza, kids are not given a name, gender or any description, except to the point where they are wearing what everyone in their age wears. Dawe uses sexist, standardised and depersonalised tones to describe everything about the family to send a message to the readers that family are not grown, but they are constructed.
In stanza 3, ‘Luck’s-A-Fortch Tricky-Tune-Quiz’ brings an idea of consumerism. This idea of consumerism again appears in line 17 ‘good-as-new station-wagon’, providing a description that the product is new not second handed. From line 18 to 25, child is experiencing the world inside his mum’s car. Dawe uses capitalisations with all the signs ‘WALK. DON’T WALK. TURN LEFT. NO PARKING. WAIT HERE. NO SMOKING. KEEP CLEAR/OUT/OFFGRASS. NO BREATHING EXCEPT BY ORDER. BEWARE OF THIS. WATCH OUT FOR THAT’ to enhance the idea of life is full of imperative signs and rules to obey. These signs start off realistically, but become satirical. Dawe uses hyperbole in one of the signs ‘NO BREATHING EXCEPT BY ORDER’ to send across his message that some rules are stupid. There are repetitions of the onomatopoeic ‘beep’ represents, apart from obvious car horns, a censorship of swear words with the last ‘beep’ representing the conclusion of the frustration.
Stanza 4 is the stage of being a teenager. As the stanza starts with the word ‘however’, the poet brings a hope to the teenager’s life. Dawe uses a phrase ‘he enjoyed’, this comment on the child’s opinion is the first sign of any emotions in the whole poem. The word "Unadulterated" is also used in advertising, and its use here to describe something naturally beautiful is a contrast, and illustrates an underlying theme of the poem - that of the contrast between "The horror of man and the beauty of Nature." ‘Stars’ can have double meaning of movie stars and it could also mean his dreams. The word ‘littered’ has a negative connotation, and yet is ironic because stars are the only things that poet has yet mentioned.
In stanza 5, there is a change in tone from the narrator to the character himself as visible through the word “I” being used. Dawe quickly finishes off the development from teenager to an adult in few lines. This speed of the story indicates that everyone in the society was grown up in a same way that the process of growing does not worth a lot to write. The phrase “good bye stars” in line 39 represent the disappearance of the child’s dreams and the phrase “and the soft cry in the corner” is illustrating no more showing emotions and also include a sexist comment on ‘men don’t cry’. In line 41, child’s adultery voice could be seen as he states ‘Number One every time for this chicken’, “number one every time” is a colloquial expression of care yourself first before caring others and ‘this chicken’ is signifying himself, which shows very selfish thoughts of the adults. Again, the selfishness of the adult could be seen in line 42 ‘hit wherever you see a head/kick whoever’s down’ meaning, as long as I am alright, it does not matter whom I hurt. The second last line of the stanza, ‘man can’t help but feel a little soiled himself’ is signifying the awfulness of the real world and cannot survive the world without anything dirty, ironically, he is soiled too much to really understand what he is missing.
Stanza 6 has connotations with stanza 4, where he learns exactly what his mum showed him. In stanza 4 mum talks while she is driving, and in stanza 6, this child also speaks while he is driving, which causes the car crash, ‘hey, ease up, will you, watch it—‘. These dashes position the reader to imagine about the car crash. As said in stanza 1, “it didn’t mean a thing to him then” is a line which foreshadows the car accident event as the whole concept of lucky does not mean a thing to him because he died from the car accident.
Stanza 7 starts with the word ‘probity’ which means uprightness and honesty. Hence stanza is very ironic because throughout this stanza, Probity & Sons promote the disguise of the society even in death. This could be seen as they give ‘healthy tan he’d never had’. There is another change in tone, back to narrator. Dawe uses brackets to imply the message of unimportance, hence ironically what he states in the bracket assist in his theme of no significants of life and death. ‘old automatic smile with nothing behind it’ symbolises the life that the child lived with a fake personality, not the real himself. Bruce Dawe states ‘underground metropolis’, that even after death, human cannot escape the metropolis. Last few lines of the stanza shows that even death is being cheapened and being sold as this is evident from, just like the game show host, the narrative quickly rushes through the characteristic of the ‘underground metropolis’ to gain interest.
Stanza 8 and 9 are just single line stanzas. In stanza 8, nobody is interested anymore as he does not affect their life anymore, hence showing the ignorance and selfishness of the adults. In stanza 9, there are repetitions of the onomatopoeia just like the first stanza ‘blink blink’. The place ‘CEMETERY’ is being capitalised to illustrate the importance of the setting. Both of the place ‘HOSPITAL’ and ‘CEMETERY’ is being capitalised to exemplify the life and death happens in hospital and cemetery. In the last stanza, the word ‘Silence’ has only capitalised 1st letter whereas in 1st stanza, the word ‘SILENCE’ is fully capitalised to illustrate, the beginning of life is more important than the end of the life. Looking with the point of view of adults, the child may affect their life whereas, dead body cannot. This also enhances the theme of ignorance and selfishness of the adults. The first and the last stanza are nearly identically similar, which Dawe written this with purpose to show to the readers that the life and death are symmetrical.
This poem ‘Enter Without So Much as Knocking’ by Bruce Dawe written in 1959 is a poem which contains few different themes; human condition, no significances of life and death and adult’s ignorance and their selfishness, based on one single subject of life. This poem utilises a lot of poetic devices such as; mood, irony, hyperbole, onomatopoeia and repetition to enrich the ideas getting acrosss to the reader.