At Shagger’s Funeral – Bruce Dawe – Analysis

At shagger’s funeral

At Shagger’s funeral there wasn’t much to say
That could be said
In front of his old mum – she frightened us, the way
She shook when the Reverend read
About the resurrection and the life, as if
The words meant something to her, shook, recoiled,
And sat there, stony, stiff
As Shagger, while the rest of us, well-oiled,
Tried hard to knuckle down to solemn facts,
Like the polished box in the chapel aisle
And the clasped professional sorrow, but the acts
Were locked inside us like a guilty smile
That caught up with us later, especially when
We went round to pick up his reclaimed Ford,
The old shag-wagon, and beat out the dust
From tetron cushions, poured
Oil in the hungry sump, flicked the forsaken
Kewpie doll on the dash-board,
Kicked the hub-caps tubercular with rust.

The service closed with a prayer, and silence beat
Like a tongue in a closed mouth.
Of all the girls he’d loved or knocked or both,
Only Bev Whiteside showed – out in the street
She gripped her hand-bag, said, ‘This is as far
As I’m going, boys, or any girl will go
From now on.’

Later, standing about
The windy grave, hearing the currawongs shout
In the camphor-laurels, and his old lady cry
As if he’d really been a son and a half,
What could any of us say that wasn’t a lie
Or that didn’t end up in a laugh
At his expense – caught with his britches down
By death, whom he’d imagined out of town?

Bruce Dawe (1930 –

Australian vocabulary
Shagger
One who shags – offensive term for sexual intercourse, a shagger is one known for this as a dominant attribute
Tetron – polyester
Shag-wagon – also referred to in the 1970’s as a sin-bin, typically a panelvan
Currawong – Australian bird
Kewpie – brand of doll

S1 lines 1-8 …
Essential enjambment in lines 7-8 stiff as Shagger
This is all about Shaggers mum and her attendance at the service … on a religious note there was nothing that could be said that was in positive character for the afterlife – so maybe a great disappointment in that regard as his mum visibly shook – showing a little distaste with the behaviour of her son
S1 lines 8-13
His young mates – well-oiled (nice way to say having had a few, considering the shag-wagon  description later – poured oil in the hungry wagon – well they were completely out of place in the church and the service … with no understanding as closed to them as Shagger was in his box
S1 lines 14-20
The mates taking care of the shag-wagon … such an apt description of the panelvan with great representation on the life of Shagger … love the image of ‘hub-caps tubercular with rust’ – the car dying in sympathy with the owner while his mates seem to have some guilt association with that life style, guilt promoted perhaps after being in Church

S2 – the service closure and – ‘silence beat like a tongue in a closed mouth’ – this sums up the whole situation – the locked from speech of all attendees who cannot give expression to their true feelings. But Bev Whitehouse is the only one of his girl friends to turn up and waits outside the church and aptly voices the end to any shagging from Shagger – ‘This is as far / As I’m going, boys, or any girl will go / From now on.’

S3 – Well, it is all about looking at the positives and negating anything that would be completely insensitive at the graveside and perhaps some distortion of the truth might eventuate. Later you can be honest with your mates at the wake and remember with more honesty and with a laugh. Of course Shagger may not have literally been caught with his pants down when he died but appropriate words for his untimely death.

This is such a period piece of poetry defining the Australian scene in the seventies.

More details on this poem

Bruce Dawe is an Australian poet, considered by some as one of the most influential Australian poets of all time.

And Bruce Dawe on Wikipedia