Analysis of Bruce Dawe's poem "Katrina".


Katrina - Bruce Dawe

Katrina, now you are suspended between earth and sky.

Tubes feed you glucose intravenously. Naked you lie

In your special room in Ward Fifteen. Is you life

Opening again or closing finally? We do not know, but fear

The telephone call from a nurse whose distant sympathy

Will be the measure of our helplessness. Your twin brother's

Two-month-old vigour hurts us, remembering

Thin straws of sunlight on your bowed legs kicking

In defiance of your sickness, your body's wasting.

Againsts the black velvet of death threatening.

Your life shines like a Jewel, each relapse a flash of light

The more endearing. Your mother grieves already, so do I.

Miracles do not tempt us. We are getting in early,

Although we know there is no conditioning process which can counter

The karate-blow when it comes,

No way we can arrange the date-pad to conceal

The page torn-off, crumpled, thrown away.

Katrina, I had in mind a prayer, but only this came,

And you are still naked between earth and sky.

Transfusion-wounds in your heels, your dummy taped in your mouth.


The poem ‘Katrina’ by Bruce Dawe brings several adjectives to mind, soft, tender and heartfelt. They are not the words that one associates when discussing how the typical iconic Australian man expresses himself. In fact even typing “Australian man”, feels foreign, I should write an “Aussie bloke”. An Aussie bloke is far easier to conjure up in the mind’s eye, one with a weather-beaten face, a potbelly, a can of V.B in one hand and a meat pie or form guide in the other. Yet in ‘Katrina’ Dawe (yes, an Aussie bloke, indeed the farmer’s son) expresses himself expertly and honestly defining the quality of an absolute, unqualified love, Humanity’s single deepest need, a love that only a parent can truly feel. ‘Katrina’ tugs at our heartstrings and stirs the soul using metaphors, analogies, infused with the echoes of rhyme, onomatopoeia and with a structured variation of the length of lines.

‘Katrina’ unashamedly confronts us with images simultaneously disturbing and beautiful ‘suspended between earth and sky’, ‘bowed legs kicking’, ‘black velvet of death’, ‘life shines like a jewel’ and ‘your dummy taped in your mouth.’ Dawe allows us to accompany him in on this rollercoaster journey of his emotions throughout the entirety of the poem. ‘Katrina’ begins with a nervous sense of foreboding ‘suspended between earth and sky’, isolation with ‘In your special room’, fear and helplessness ‘The telephone call…helplessness’, guilt ‘Your twin brother’s…hurts us’, desperation ‘Thin straws of sunlight on your bowed legs’ to hope‘ kicking In defiance of your sickness,’ and ‘Your life shines like a jewel’ melancholy ‘Miracles do not tempt us’ to despair with ‘I had in mind a prayer, but only this came,’ and the crushingly brilliant masterstroke ‘Transfusion-wounds in your heels, your dummy taped in your mouth.’

Dawe speaks to us like an Everyman, an equal, no matter our social standing. He accomplishes this by being completely open and honest whilst at the same time coming across as sensitive without being “mushy” enabling him to maintain that Aussie “toughness,” a perfect example being ‘Your mother grieves already, so do I.’ Dawe uses delicate yet powerful analogies to assist with this sense of familiarity we shares with him like ‘Is your life Opening again or closing finally?’ and ‘the karate-blow when it comes’ to name but a couple. However it is with the use of onomatopoeia, Dawe’s slyest and simplest trick, that brings it all together. The repetition of ‘ing’ sounds ‘remembering’, ‘Thin’, ‘kicking’, ‘In’, ‘wasting’, ‘threatening’, ‘endearing’ and ‘conditioning’ all echoing in the background like that of the monitors in a hospital ward.


‘Katrina’ is a carefully structured poem, the first stanza fourteen lines and the second stanza six lines in length. Each line of the poem is competently tailored, giving just the right amount of information to maintain the overall flow of the poem. The break in the stanzas has been inserted to offer maximum emotional effect. Splitting the poem in two puts the emphasis on the acceptance Dawe concludes he must confront. Dawe is a refreshingly honest poet, down to earth, eloquently spoken without a trace of pretentiousness. Every time I read this poem it reminds me of a quote by James McBride “Family love is like the wind: instinctive, raw, fragile, beautiful, at times angry, but always unstoppable. It is our collective breath. It is the world’s greatest force.”