Life Cycle

life cycle by Bruce Dawe #

Life Cycle (for Big Jim Phelan)

When children are born in Victoria
they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.

Carn, they cry, Carn … feebly at first
while parents playfully tussle with them
for possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are …)

Hoisted shoulder-high at their first League game
they are like innocent monsters who have been years swimming
towards the daylight’s roaring empyrean

Until, now, hearts shrapnelled with rapture,
they break surface and are forever lost,
their minds rippling out like streamers

In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice
like the voice of God booms from the stands
Ooohh you bludger and the covenant is sealed.

Hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat,
they will forswear the Demons, cling to the Saints
and behold their team going up the ladder into Heaven,

And the tides of life will be the tides of the home-team’s fortunes
– the reckless proposal after the one-point win,
the wedding and honeymoon after the grand final …

They will not grow old as those from the more northern states grow old,
for them it will always be three-quarter time
with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,

That passion persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons,
enabling old-timers by boundary fences to dream of resurgent lions
and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present,

So that mythology may be perpetually renewed
and Chicken Smallhorn return like the maize-god
in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing

But the dance forever the same – the elderly still
loyally crying Carn … Carn … (if feebly) unto the very end,
having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation

SPORT replacing fanatical religion is the subject matter of this poem. Australians have an obsessive preoccupation with sport for many reasons.

We have a conducive climate, lots of space for sporting fields, ample leisure time, good economic conditions including diet creating exemplary traditions for aspirations. The intensive media coverage and regional loyalties induce a counterfeit excitement towards religious ritual fervor and fanaticism. Sport replaces the blood sport of Gladiatorial Arenas. The destructive effect of commercialism causes an erosion of club loyalties by higher salaries to young players who can not handle the big money or the early adulation of fans. The emphasis on elite sports also erodes the participation in unorganised team sports for simple enjoyment.

Nick Hornby, in his multiple award-winning and best-selling book Fever Pitch makes a similar confession to a life obsessed by soccer - “nothing ever matters but football”. One of the things Hornby makes clear is how non-consumerist his passion is. The natural state of the fan is “bitter disappointment” ; the typical crowd experience is “going spare with frustration and worry”.

George Orwell wrote that sport is war without the bullets.

Bruce Dawe loves Australian Rules and so gently mocks and satirises its followers whose passion has taken over their lives.

A true perspective is that however significant it may appear, Sport is merely a game, and although it taps similar drives, calls upon similar talents and strengths of character, it does not entangle with the ultimate authority - that of death. It is the high-trapeze artist who does her balancing over a safety net, and whose hands are not stained by blood-guilt.

There is a superficiality to sport. It does not enter the hallowed underworld of the great archetypes of war. The lives of civilians and especially children, the survival of the community, are not under threat. Supporters walk away miserable from a loss by their team, but essentially unscathed.

Tomorrow is another day; next week another game. Moreover, while football is a case in which the surrogate is preferable to the original, the civilised sublimation preferable to plunging too close to the barbarous depths, a game will never produce poems like The Iliad or Agamemnon.¹

¹**This is an edited extract from Ego & Soul, by John Carroll, professor of sociology at La Trobe University, Melbourne. Published by Scribe.* *


Tone: rolling solemnity of a hymn of praise.

Celebratory yet light-hearted, almost irreverent, Mock- heroic? A mixture of solemnity with jocular parodies, a hint of affectionate satire.


Sport has replaced Religion and now provides for:

a) continuity — passing on traditions, values, aspirations - inculcation of legendary heroes, conditioning

b) Imbuing life with purpose, meaning, direction.

c) Revitalisation through cycles of renewal

d) Pivotal axis around which everything revolves.


Contrast of Images:

Mythical Monsters young children

Voice of God roar of crowds

Maize god Chicken smallhorn

resurrection Eaglehawk (new recruit)

Dance of life sport


beribboned, scarf of light, rippling like streamers


barracking, “Carn, Carn. ..“ Corruption of Come on.

“pure flood of sound… voice, like the voice of God booms from the stands “oh you bludger”.

“elderly still loyally crying Cam. . (if feebly) until the very end”

Parallels: Religion, pagan and Christian = modern sport


Puns: Wrapped, wrapt,

Team Mascots

Tigers, - Richmond

Demons, - Melbourne

Saints, - St. Kilda

Lions - - Collingwood

Parody of: rituals of life; “reckless proposal after the one point win”.

Anzac Ode: Undercut by triviality of rivalry between Victoria and northern states, suggesting an affectionate send-up. Bathos


Much of the language is lofty, poetic, pompous, rhetorical and not suited for such a banal pedestrian topic like football. The juxtaposition of this elevated religious language with the crude Australian vernacular provides some of the humour.

Biblical language and style, The word order is often resonant of the King James Version of the bible yet dealing with mundane things like:

“Hot Pies and potato crisps they will eat.”

Shakespeare’s rhetorical: The tides of life….” ending in bathos.

ENOBARBUS on Cleopatra

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety: other women cloy The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry Where most she satisfies

Juxtaposition of five kinds of language:

Secular - football the stands, barracking, Possession, scarfed, Hot pies and potato-crisps, six foot recruit

Formal Beribboned, shrapnelled, break surface, perpetually, replenish,

Vernacular tussle, Carn - Strine, Ooohh you, bludger,

Christian flood, rapture, voice of god, forswear, Covenant passion, lost, Saints/Demons, Ladder to Heaven, hope of salvation

Pagan Myth empyrean, Monsters, maize-god dancers, race-memory, Chicken Smallhorn, resurgent lion, centaur figure, dance

.Cliches: Language of football

the home team, the wind advantage, the final term, the boundary fence, the stand, the ladder, the grand final.

Double meaning - words functioning on two levels:

Tigers, tussle, Demons, Saints, Lions,


“pies and potato crisps”

“passion persisting”