Bruce Dawe was a prominent Australian poet and critic who lived from 1930 to 2020. "Life-Cycle" displays his typical mix of humor and philosophizing as it charts the stages in the life of Australian football fanatics. Newborn fans sleep in cribs covered in their team's colors (before, of course, they even know what a "team" is); adults live an emotional life defined by how well their team is doing; and elderly fans maintain the hope, right to the end, that this season might be the one in which their team finally ascends to glory. Beneath the poem's lighthearted surface lurks a more serious point: human beings crave community, passion, drama, and meaning, and sports offer these up in a similar way to religion and mythology. "Life-Cycle" appears in Dawe's 1968 collection An Eye for a Tooth.
For Big Jim ...
... a lifetime’s barracking.
Carn, they cry, ...
... … )
Hoisted shoulder-high at ...
... daylight’s roaring empyrean
Until, now, hearts ...
... covenant is sealed.
Hot pies and ...
... ladder into Heaven,
And the tides ...
... after the grand-final…
They will not ...
... continually the present,
So that mythology ...
... hope of salvation.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Bruce Dawe at the NFSA — More information about the poet's life, career, and views, courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
A Bruce Dawe Documentary — Watch a film exploring the poet's life and work.
Dawe's Obituary — An article about the poet written by John Kinsella (a fellow Australian writer).
Aussie Rules Football — Find out all you need to know about the sport in the poem.
A Podcast Documentary — Learn more about the poet from his biographer, Stephany Evans Stegall (includes a wonderful reading of the poem right up top!).
For Big Jim Phelan
1When children are born in Victoria
2they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
3having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.
4Carn, they cry, Carn… feebly at first
5while parents playfully tussle with them
6for possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are… )
7Hoisted shoulder-high at their first League game
8they are like innocent monsters who have been years swimming
9towards the daylight’s roaring empyrean
10Until, now, hearts shrapnelled with rapture,
11they break surface and are forever lost,
12their minds rippling out like streamers
13In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice
14like the voice of God booms from the stands
15Ooohh you bludger! and the covenant is sealed.
16Hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat,
17they will forswear the Demons, cling to the Saints
18and behold their team going up the ladder into Heaven,
19And the tides of life will be the tides of the home-team’s fortunes
20— the reckless proposal after the one-point win,
21the wedding and honeymoon after the grand-final…
22They will not grow old as those from the more northern States grow old,
23for them it will always be three-quarter-time
24with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,
25That passion persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons,
26enabling old-timers by boundary fences to dream of resurgent lions
27and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present,
28So that mythology may be perpetually renewed
29and Chicken Smallhorn return like the maize-god
30in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing
31But the dance forever the same — the elderly still
32loyally crying Carn… Carn… (if feebly) unto the very end,
33having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation.