Hates the waiting game...
- Rep Power
This should be in the advanced critical studies of text but anyway
i took this from the Harwood FAQ thanks 2 Without Wings
This poem was inspired by a visit to a very dear friend, Thomas Riddell. The poet went to his garden first, then to the Mornington Cemetary where his parents are buried.
The poem begins with the childhood memory in which the poet recalls her first visit to the sea as a child. Believing she could walk on water, she jumped in and had to be rescued by her father. After saving her he was ‘half comforting, half angry’.
Just as she thought she could defy gravity and walk on water, so the pumpkins in her friends’ garden ‘in airy defiance of nature’ symbolised for her the way in which she has been nourished by the fruits of the Earth and is moving through life to ‘the fastness of light’ and the ‘ultimate death’.
She is reminded of death as ‘two friends of middle age’. She and Thomas Riddell, stand by his parents grave ‘among avenues of the dead’. She is aware that these have ‘come to that time of life’ when their bones begin to age and form their body into the final shape it will assume in death just as the ‘drying face of land rose out of earths seamless waters’.
The poet recalls the peace and serenity she enjoyed with her long-time friend in a dream set in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens where they share a pitcher of cool, refreshing water. So their visit to the cemetary, the security she experienced in her fathers arms (when confronted for the first time by a Halloween pumpkin) and the serenity shared in the Botanic Gardens – all these will comfort and shield her at the time of her death, when she is ‘seized at last’ and borne away on the face of the waters forever.
The first poem in the Professor Eisenbart sequence ‘Prize Giving’ explores antitheses between youth and age, masculinity and feminity, learning and artistry. The speakers sense of distance from the Professor is suggested both by his formal title of academic rank and the foreign sound of his name. He embodies an old fashioned concept of the European, aloof repository of arcane learning, with a difficult, unapproachable demeanour. ‘asked to attend’ the prize giving ‘as an honoured guest’ he ‘rudely declined’ his vanity, however is flattered by the persistence of the Headmistress and he condescends to ‘grace their humble platform’.
Harwood is satirising his pomposity, but also smiling at the schools desperation to acquire such a distinguished guest. As well, she captures and delights in – the excitement of the occasion which is animated by the advent of this imposing masculine figure amongst the all female company
When he appeared
the girls whirred with an insect nervousness
Even the Headmistress is dwarfed by his presence which is made even more grand by his academic gown and hood, of silk and fur, putting her less distinguished black in the shade. Her fussing around the professor is comical as she steers him
to the best seat beneath half-hearted blooms
tortured to form the schools elaborate crest
Harwood is mocking her own sex in these lines, the schools collective hysteria on the occasion and the hyper feminine floral decorations, even as she caricatures the Professors revulsion from it all.
Eisenbart scowled with violent distaste
Then recomposed his features to their best
His affectations and vanity reach their culmination in his mimicking of the pose of ‘The Thinker’ in Rodins famous sculpture.
At the midpoint of the poem, the sharply (almost grotesquely) drawn antitheses between youth and ages, masculinity and feminity are disturbed as the professor surveys the audience of girlish heads and focuses on one “with titian hair”. Here is a girl who has not been cowed by his presence and mocks his pose by duplicating it.
The prize for music is announced and that very girl approaches the dais to receive the ‘cup of silver decorated with curious harps’ That details matches the over ornamented floral crest. With Harwood’s high appreciation of music as the pinnacle of the arts and artistry, it is not surprising that it is the school’s most accomplished musician who is set apart from the others and has the attractiveness and confidence to disturb the Professor’s self assurance and to match (if not exceed) his attainments.
Her hand and felt its voltage fling his hold
From his calm age and power
It is a charge both sexual and artistic. This meeting of Professor and musician is the violent conjunction of learning and artistry he was one we remember from the first stanza, who could be appealed to through the medium of ‘dry, scholastic jokes’ She is one who knows nothing of reason – her domain is the passion of music, and once she is seated at the piano, her schoolgirls being is transformed into that of a master.
The effect on Professor Eisenbart is devastating as her playin excited in his manhood a ‘rose-hot dream’ of love for her. In her interpretation of Mozart, the whole range of emotions is communicated, with accomplished talent.
He has been overcome by the experience that his self possession crumbles and he looks at music cup and sees his carefully constructed image upside down.
A sage fool trapped
By music in a copper net of hair
The oxymoron ‘sage fool’ dismisses him with a sneer, at the poems conclusion.
‘Prize giving’ gives the prize to art over learning, to passion over reason and at the end – to the beauty of feminine youth over pomposity of masculine age. But we should be careful to note that the girl with titian hair is exceptional. She stands for the artist. She is clearly differentiated (by her hair, as her musicianship) from the other girls around her, as she is from Professor Eisenbart.