Sample Essay Gwen Harwood’s Poetry

Sample Essay Gwen Harwood’s Poetry


The unrelenting and constant flow of time can sometimes overwhelm individuals, prompting their need to withdrawal to their memory. Gwen Harwood’s poem, “The Violets” demonstrates textual integrity though exploring the power of memory to transcend through time despite the finite nature of existence. The poem opens with a bleak atmosphere established by the “frail melancholy flowers” which symbolise the narrator’s childhood memories.

The fractured structure of the poem and repetition of “Ambiguous light. Ambiguous sky” emphasising the way the narrator is melting into nostalgia in order to alleviate her present distress.Gwen Harwood explores the transcendent power of memories through the narrator’s mother’s “long hair falling to her waist” connoting a powerful experience of the bond between mother and child that obviously has not been weathered away by the passage of time.

The narrator’s child persona undergoes a transition upon learning that the morning was “gone”, symbolising the unrelenting passing of time, she eventually accepts the loss of “unreturning light”, a metaphor for life.  The child persona’s acceptance parallels the narrator’s enlightenment in present time. The alliteration in “death’s disorienting scale distort” emphasises the notion that the looming and inevitable prospect of death cannot steal the comforting experiences of life from her. Powerful memories have the ability to transcend time, not loosing their importance, to comfort individuals in time of distress.

Father and Child

The lessons of past experiences is integral in determining moral perspectives.  The poem, “Father and Child” by Gwen Harwood demonstrates textual integrity through it’s exploration of the psychological maturation of the narrator and consequence changing relationship with her father. The stealing of the phaliac “father’s gun”is reflective of the narrator’s experiments with rebellion as the naïve id.

The narrator’s disobedience follows the Christian meta-narrative of the disobedience of Eve, her father the “No-sayer” a metaphor for god. The “high beam” the owl rests on is a metaphor for the narrator’s psychological view of her father. In her attempts to overpower her father’s authority, the narrator shoots the owl, a symbolic projection of her father. The enjambment of “eyes that did not see..mirror my cruelty” is reflective of the narrator’s hesitation and grass roots of her psychological maturation as she realises the magnitude of her actions.

The emotive imagery of “hobbled in it’s own blood” shows the reality of the consequence of the narrator’s naïve action. The narrator’s psychological maturation into the reflective ego is explored in the second half of the poem “nightfall” in which the narrator realises the finite nature of life, resolving to take responsibility for it thus gaining a new sense of appreciation of her father evident in the rhetorical question “Who can be what you were?”.

The symbolic “dry hand in mine” shows the connection between old and young in the narrator’s mature state. The diction of “ancient innocence”  in describing her father demonstrates the maintainable the integrity of his character and moral perspective through time. The narrator’s moral maturation from her past experiences is evident in the intertextality of King Lear of “Old King” reflecting her changing relationship to her father. The repetition of “no words, no tears” emphasises the maturation of the narrator in realising the significance of life and loss. The psychological maturation of individuals and consequent shift in moral perspective gains them them a new sense of appreciation of life and loss.

At Mornington

The immortality of memory has the power to transcend time and preserve us through times of hardship. The poem, “At Mornington” demonstrates textual integrity though Gwen Harwood’s exploration of the inescapable cycle of life and loss to the human experience

and the role of memory in maintaining integral character in tumultuous times. The symbolic action in which the narrator leapt from her “father’s arms” connotes the shedding of patriarchal and paternal protection of childhood and entrance into independent existence. The repetition of “the next wave, the next wave” in the narrator’s memory emphasises the recurrent aspect of nature that mirrors human experience.

The “wholeness of the day” that the narrator enjoys in present time is a metaphor for the immortality of memories in transcending through time.  The continued motif of nature reveals the recurring cycle of life and death through the narrator describing the climbing vine that nourish the metaphorical “fruits” of life and the personification of “our bones begin to wear us” that show the inevitability of aging and death that completes the cycle.

Water becomes a symbol for life as the narrator recounts a day with her friend sharing a “pitcher of water”. The inescapably of  loss and death can only be consolidated by the symbolic comfort of memories when the narrator “secure in my father’s arms” . The accumulation of “dreams, pain memories, love and grief” demonstrates the overwhelming range of emotion that human experience can cover.

The religious allusion of the god’s “hand” and it’s inability to save her shows the inescapable cycle of life and loss. The hyperbole “bear me away forever” reflects the transience and immortality of memory that will continue to maintain individuals in times of hardship. The inescapable cycle of life and loss to the human experience can only be consolidated through the immortal power of memory to transcend through time and preserve individuals in times of hardship.

Mother who gave me life

From the beginning of the human species, there has been an innate connection between motherhood and the nurturing of life. The elegy, “mother who gave me life” by Gwen harwood demonstrates textual integrity by celebrating this connection. The narrator reflects on the unbreakable chain between women with ancestral connotations in “women bearing women” suggesting that it is through the female line that life is renewed.

Although the role of the mother in nurturing children is fundamental to a parent-child relationship, it is not the sole reason for which a woman lives. Gwen Harwood subverts the patriarchal notion that the only purpose of women is to bear children, in her feminist critique that it is metaphorically “not for my children I walk”, with the narrator withholding an identity outside of her children.

The narrator reflects that there is something ancient and primitive about the parent child-relationship, the enjambment of “anguish of seasons burning..backward in time” showing the narrator’s recession through human history through the line of the mother. Gwen Harwood also acknowledges the spiritual properties of motherhood with religious allusion in “guiless milk”. The poem is structured in a traditional four line stanza, giving a more formal tone as an address to the dead.

The mother’s role as a nurturer of life is not diminished even at her deathbed with the action of “folding a little towel” symbolising the essentialness of the role to her character. The motif of linen in the final stanza connotes domesticity associated with motherhood in Gwen Harwood’s context of 1950’s middle class Australia. In the final stanza, Gwen Harwood addresses the transcendence of life with the domestic environment that the mother dwells in, addressed as the “father’s house” a metaphor for the house of god or heaven, in which her mother’s spirit will dwell for all eternity. “Mother who gave me life” demonstrates textual integrity through it’s through exploration of the ancient complexity of the nurturing role of motherhood.

Triste Triste

Individuals must tend to the everyday physical demands of life while simultaneously feeding the  intrinsic creative spirit. The poem “Triste, Triste” displays textual integrity through Gwen Harwood’s exploration of the stifling effect of physical reality on the metaphysical creative spirit. The metaphor of “heart mourns its prison” shows the imprisonment of abstract emotions in the physical reality of the world. The alliteration in “blood-black curtains” emphasises the darkness of a world without creative spirit.

The extended metaphor of Christ’s resurrection in “spirit walks to Easter light”  demonstrates the rebirth of the spirit and the metaphysical realm it occupies.  Gwen Harwood suggests that abstract ideologies cannot be imprisoned by the physical limitations of humanity in the religious allusion of “remember your promise of paradise”. The repetition and onomatopoeia of “hammers hammers” emphasises the calling of the creative spirit. The poem’s overall melancholy tone shows the conflict between the mundane physical demands of society and the free spirit which oppose these duties. Gwen Harwood notes the inevitable stifling of the creative spirit in the structured environment of society.


Excellent notes and certainly you have raised a number of points about the textual integrity of each poem. Outstanding connection between ideas and evidence.

Small attention to detail points such as grammar and spelling. Even though I would consider this note-taking, paragraphs would make it much easier for a marker to read and to understand what points you are making. it’s = its. Possessive is always this way. Only use of it’s is instead of ‘it is’.

Ensure you do give your work a thorough edit before submission. Clear up points of expression. A number of times, though I haven’t left comments for all, your choice of language has diminished the effect of the point you are making. If in doubt – simplicity.

Some high-quality analysis and detail. This shows you have a thorough understanding of the poems and one that is worthy of a Band Six response should you be asked to develop them beyond notes.

A good habit, even in note-taking, is to have a stream of thought or paragraphs to organise it. This will help when it comes to remembering and structuring any of your future analysis.

Note the criteria below are not well-suited to this kind of response. I therefore have not allocated a band.

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