Bruce Dawe's 'And a Good Friday Was Had By All'

This is taken from Bruce Dawe’s ‘Sometimes Gladness’ a book I’d recommend to anyone.

When I first came to Australia, I knew nothing about a thing called ‘Australian Poetry’. But as an English teacher of English dropped into an Australian high school mid semester I discovered I was supposed to be teaching a unit on Australian Poetry. I raided the school’s stack of poetry books and took them home and read them with a desperation tinged with panic. This poem was the first one I found that I admired.

You could spend a lot of time turning this poem over to consider how you as reader are meant to react to the speaker. He is a soldier doing his job. On this particular Friday his job is to crucify people: ‘Nothing personal you understand….’. or what the title implies about all the people mentioned in the poem.

'Ulysses' by Alfred Lord Tennyson

This is one of the great dramatic monolgues in English. It’s easy to be carried along by the speaker’s undimmed enthusiasm for exploration (mental or physical) and his reluctance to give into old age. The last two lines are justly famous. But in this poem, as in the best of Browning’s, what is being said is undercut by how it is said. If you pay attention, the poem is having its cake and eating it; admiring the exuberant old explorer, while allowing you to see his arrogance and selfishness.