Gwen Harwood Analysis Of All 6 Poems/Readings (1 Viewer)

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New Member
Oct 4, 2007
The Violets
- The poem represents the passing of time and a memory of childhood
- The violets are flowers with a fleeting beauty and just like youth, childhood and time they fade. Dualism of death and the beautiful
- Violets represent both change and permanence, they remain the soma but somehow they have been changed
- Conversational/dreamlike tone created by enjambment and irregular pattern of the lines
- Concerned with the movement of time/time in fleeting, change
- It speaks of stolen time and past events
- Tries to make tangible something that is intangible through the metaphor of music
- A memory of family, things she remembers the most about her parents
- Uses nature to understand the past
- God was seen as an integral part of the natural world
- Time passes – death approaches
- Dualism, past / present – passing of time
- The infinity of life, its passing, is explained by the infinity of death
- Even though black birds and curlews are harbingers of death and the beauty of the violets fade, nature is idealised
- The dynamics of ‘The Violets’ are marked by indenting the stanzas. The present in stanza 1 is at the margin, stanza 3 to 4 move back into the past and are indented, the final stanza , a mixture of present and past, is staggered
- There is a bleak imagery in stanza 1 and a growing warmth in the past, ‘It is dusk and cold……frail melancholy flowers……our blackbird frets and strops’
- Innocence and simplicity of youth. The simplistic beauty of ‘black and white’ understanding
- Recaptures memory of her parents
- Prevailing image throughout poem is fecundity (fertility and growth)

In the violets psychoanalytical criticism can be applied, for it is a poem about personal reflection through the subconscious mind. This dreamlike quality is created through the rhythm of one line flowing into the next. The persona relives memories, of her childhood experiences, which are triggered by the scent of violets. Gwen Harwood uses violets as the main symbol, for like childhood and time, they are flowers which only posses a fleeting beauty and in time, they, like our lives, will reach their end. The violets are also a symbol of nature which is very common theme among romanticists. The mood of the poem is portrayed in the first stanza, “I kneel to pick frail melancholy flowers among ashes and loam”, these words create and atmosphere of thoughtfulness for she is reflecting on the past. Harwood uses music as a means to transcend time by “whistling a trill”. Throughout the poem Harwood uses taste, referred to by “ice cream” and touch referred to by “loam, ashes, stroking and hair” to enhance the adult personas experience of the memories as well as the readers. To show when the adult persona is drifting into memory Hardwood uses repetition, “Ambiguous light. Ambiguous sky.” The poem also contains a contrast between light and dark; for the child wakes up to the setting of the sun and is upset that time has been stolen from her. Psychoanalytical theory can be used for the child’s feelings of loss due to, “the thing I could not grasp or name that, while I slept, had stolen from me those hours of unreturning light.” It can also be suggested by the “hours of unreturning light” that the adult persona has not yet fully come to terms with death. However the memories of stolen time help her to overcome her fears. The poem also contains memories of a carefree time with her parents and the innocence of a child. This aspect is enhanced through the use of metaphors, imagery and the symbolism created by nature. “Years cannot move nor death’s disorienting scale distort those lamplit presences”, this shows that through the memories the adult persona has come to terms with aging and the inevitability of death. For she now realises that even death cannot erase her memories. A spiritual aspect is created through the “lamplit presences” which could symbolize the waiting of death. In the last line Harwood once again uses the symbol of violets to bind the poem together and make the emotions more tangible, “Faint scent of violet drifts through the air”.

The Violets
In this poem of reminiscence of her childhood, Harwood concentrates on violets, both as frail melancholy flowers and as symbolic of our fragile early memories, which we cherish and love to recall:

Faint scent of violets drifts in the air

This positive teaching of the poem, however, is delayed by the negative anecdote which opens it. This is in the adult present and the setting, at dusk, is cold. Once again, Harwood introduces her theme of the dissatisfaction of adult life, which is to be developed here in comparison with a celebration of childhood. Yet in the midst of her despair in the present, she finds the violets, struggling to emerge and survive: signs of new life and beauty rising from the ashes. To try to establish a connection with nature in order to revive her spirit, she whistles a bird-like trill but,

Our blackbird frets and strops his beak indifferent to Scarlattis song.

As before, Harwood is regretting the dissociation of humanity and nature’s creatures, and (like Keats) even sets her beloved music at a disadvantage in comparison with the unpremeditated art of birdsong.

So the setting is at best “ambiguous” with elements both of hope (the presence of the violets for example) and of despair.

The violets have set her memory in motion and she recalls a similar late afternoon in her early childhood. Confused by an afternoon nap, she had woken up looking for breakfast. Sobbing, when she realised her mistake, she asked “Where’s morning gone?” The child’s plaintive question addressed to her mother, is also the poet’s disturbing address to the reader: our childhood and its innocence and beauty will quickly pass, like a morning gone. Yet, we may retain its lovely moments in our adult memory.

To comfort her daughter, her mother:
carried me downstairs to see
spring violets in the loamy bed.

That her father arrives with a whistle (onomatopoeia giving his arrival an aural immediacy) connects the experience with her adult whistling of t he first stanza. On one of its levels, this poem is a celebration of her love for and indebtedness to her parents and the family life they created, the examples of behaviour which she has perpetuated. Nonetheless, although surrounded by this care and affection, she bitterly laments the lost morning that cannot be recovered. However, the teaching of the poem – soon to be disclosed – is that domain of purity and hope is always recoverable, by the imagination and the memory.

Nothing that her subsequent life has know, not even death itself of her parents, for example – can “distort those lamplit presences!” They have an eternal quality. And Harwood’s language and imagery is of a religious and spiritual kind in these closing lines, as she refers (for example) to entering “my father’s house” (a biblical phrase), to “the lamp” and develops the symbolism of light to its beautiful climax in the sheen of her mother’s “goldbrown hair”. Kedron Brook flowed near Harwood’s childhood home in the outer suburbs of Brisbane.

The violets in the present have served the purpose of stirring these memories from the past and, in their fragility and beauty, the flowers are emblems of those memories.

“The violets” is also a social document and commentary, revealing a kind of family life antique by today’s standards. The lamplight and the wood stove, the “child with milk and story book”, the parents with time for their child and for each other, the mother at home to attend to her child’s needs and the appreciation of the beauty of nature close at hand.

My father, bending to inhale
the gathered flowers, with tenderness
stroking my mother’s goldbrown hair

Could be dismissed as an idealistic romantisation of the past. Or, it could simply be an insight into a better world.

The Glass Jar
- Religious connotation
- Contrast between light and dark
- Day and night
- Childhood
- Trying to keep childhood/light in a jar to protect us from adulthood/darkness
- Childhood fears
- Cannot capture childhood/light symbolizing a loss of hope
- Metaphor for resurrection of Christ
- The fear when Christ is gone
- Frightened of the truth
- False hope- false hope of god
- Truth – taking us away from innocence, irrational, childlike, innocent act
- Pantheism-pantheistic: The idea of god in nature
Source of images from nature
- Juxtaposing ideas:
Contrast of: Light and dark
Good and evil
- Original metaphorical imagery that describes the boys hopes for his bottled sunshine
- The sun is prevailing metaphor – beginning and at the end. Symbolic significance
- Extended metaphors give power to the sacred crusade the boy is waging against the forces of dark and evil
- Contamination of the metaphor in the personification the ‘suns disciples’, strengthened by the alliteration ‘dream’ and ‘darkness’, bring out the power of the imagery that portray the boys nightmare
- ‘Pincer’, ‘claw’, ‘trident’, ‘vampire fang’, his father, ‘held/fiddle’ and his scraped ascent to the ‘malignant ballet’, point out the original metaphor again, especially the ‘malignant ballet’, the assonance in ‘vampire fang’ and the onomatopia ‘scraped’
- there are two saviours in this poem, however both let him down. Traditional hopes
- conventional ideas

Another one of Gwen Harwood’s poems where psychoanalytical criticism or a modernist reading is appropriate is The Glass Jar. This poem is about the transformation from childhood innocence into adulthood. The poem deals with an individual’s perception of the universe and the romantic notion of a child learning through experience. Gwen Harwood writes about a child’s fears of the darkness and loneliness and how through his experience he transforms. This poem has a major contrast between light and dark, good and evil. In the poem the sun is a symbol for security and plays the role of a saviour. The imagery of the “reeling sun” is used to remind us that darkness is fast approaching. Religious imagery such as “disciples” is used to express the child’s faith and belief in the “pulse of light beside his bed”. The words “bless” and “exorcise” are used to express the boys belief that the light will protect him from the “monsters that whispering would rise”. His believe in the lights “total power” to create a “holy commonplace of field and flower” represents his innocence and trust. Harwood uses a short sentence “he slept” to represent action and a change in the poem. “Pincer”, “claw”, and “trident” are words used to express the imagery of pain and terror the child feels. The metaphor “hope fell headlong from its eagle height,” is used to describe the child’s loss and realization that he is alone. This poem mocks traditional conventions of religion and family through the fact that the mother has her back turned when the boy needs her, creating a sense of betrayal. The rivalry between the boy and his father, and how this influences his image of his mother is significant "...his comforter lay in his rival's...... violence done to her".
This alludes to the Oedipus complex, a concept central to the psychoanalytic theory that explains the unconscious desire of a child for a sexual relationship with the parent of the opposite sex and the rivalry with the same sex parent ensues from that. Also linking to the Oedipus theory is the fact boys grew out of this phase due to the fear of being punished by their fathers, "his father held fiddle and bow, and scraped assent to the malignant ballet", it is clear that the boy is getting punished through a violent dream involving his father and therefore closely links to the Oedipus theory,
“To worse dreams he went” creates an atmosphere of isolation and loneliness. In the last stanza the words “resurrected sun” symbolize that hope isn’t lost for the sun has risen again to save the child and banish his fears. “Resurrected sun” is also religious imagery of the resurrection of Christ. “To wink and laugh” symbolizes that the child now views the sun differently and has gained a new maturity. In this poem Harwood uses traditional forms such as rhyming couplets, as shown in the last two lines of the poem, to retain its textual integrity.

The Glass Jar
“The Glass Jar” deals with the sometimes traumatic experience of growing up and the loss of childish innocence and faith. Religious imagery is used in order to convey the boy’s faith and belief system in the “pulse of light beside his bed”. The use of the word “pulse” is significant as it presents the “light” as a form of life. The boy’s faith is conveyed in the use of the words “bless” and “exorcise” which is the power the boy believes the light has to overcome the “monsters that ringed his bed” and create a “holy common place of field and flower”. The use of the oxymoron is significant as the boy attempts to make an ordinary children’s bedroom a sacred place where demons are unwelcome and where he will be safe.

The child’s confidence in his plan is also shown through the use of single sentences in the first two stanzas. However from this point onward the feeling of tension and desperation in the boy is shown through the use of enjambment. The holy and religious images of the first two stanzas contrast with the devilish images in the following stanzas. The monsters are described as having “pincer and claw, trident and vampire fang”. They are “fiends” of his own creation and are able to “pierce him in the thicket of his fear”, yet he is their victim. Interestingly this is the same child who was innocent enough to believe he could trap sunlight in a jar, is still capable of creating these evil images. It provokes the question: does evil lie subconsciously in all humans?

At Mornington
- Nature is presented as a cleansing process, a way to find truth and wisdom
- Repetition of waves and water is very important, symbolizing time and the flow of memories. They link past and present. Waves are always continuous and coming in life. Waves, tides, floods, water.
- Comfortable with the approaching of death.
- Information from another, ‘they told me that when I was taken’, passive voice
- Breaking from constraint of father and almost drowns
- ‘rolled’, in the first and last stanza: ‘ I was caught by a wave and rolled’
‘and rolled in one grinding race.’
- Passive voice, loss of control, vulnerable. However in contrast the second use of rolled is more excepted she has come to terms with life and the inevitable- age death
- First young and innocent
- Second age and knowledge
- Pumpkin symbolizes fecundity, fertility/growth, maturity
- Two images of the pumpkin. One is hollowed (mocking?). the other is more ‘real’ and humble. Perhaps a celebration to be part of life.
- ‘I would walk on water’, invincible, sums up this sense of being indestructible- contrasts to the poem as she has excepted death by the end
- innocence and experience
- ‘the next wave, the next wave’, repetition, overwhelming. Like the flood of memories and the experiences of life.
- ‘Flood’, memories, fleeting
- beauty-autumn, metaphor- reminder of death
- ‘Fine pumpkin grown on a trellis’, almost defying nature as the child did
- ‘Hollowed pumpkin’- death. The child looks at death. A child mocking it, not understanding it
- connection, ‘ripeness is plainly all’ from father and child part two
- Enjambment creates conversation/plausibility, childhood-graveyard-dream
- The water of life – time
- She thinks of ‘death no more’ because she has come to realise that she is not inevitable and death will come regardless of her thoughts or worries. Knowledge and experience. Death is just another wave to balance out
- Significance of past memories. She has captivated a pivotal moment in her life
- Child believes that it can defy nature by walking on water. Determination.
- Can certainly be read through religion
- Both personal interpretation, romantic and societies interpretation, modern
- Encapsulates the human experience, pain, dreams, desire etc.

At Mornington
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 cemetery, 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.

Father And Child
- The owl is a symbol of wisdom, an omen of death and a symbol of the feminine
- Nature acts as a reminder of our mortality, frailty and limitations
- The purpose of the inertextuality in this poem: the integration of quotes and ideas from King Lear is to give it a modernist aspect and establish the depth of emotion between father and child.
- The wounded barn owl confirms Harwood’s ability to paint grotesque pictures in words

Father and Child

The tone, or voice of Nightfall is not dissimilar to that of its companion poem Barn Owl. Both are, first person narratives but here we sense that one, much closer to the poet herself perhaps. The diction of this poem is even loftier and more formal than that of the previous poem. The subject matter is weighty; the impending death of a parent, and the diction is correspondingly serious. The sustained allusion to King Lear is an effective one. The notion of the aged father being an old king is a persuasive one that lends him considerable dignity, a sense of decayed greatness and faltering authority.

The extended metaphor of life as a journey is the predominant image in this poem. Images of Genesis, of the father as God, are called up. Another consistent image is that of the father as an old king, Since this is a poem about loss, grief and sadness, tears are also important.

The poem has a nature, conversational feel, due to its given structure.

Nightfall is a poem about maturity, while Barn Owl is a poem about immaturity. In Barn Owl we witness a young child coming to knowledge in a terrible way through death, while in Nightfall we see a middle age person come to the knowledge in a natural way, through thinking of the death of her father. All death is change, and both poems examine the changing states of an individual at important times in her life.

Prize Giving
- There is a contrast between the professors’ power and his handshaking. ‘He shook indifferently/ a host of virgin hands’, ‘indifferently’ ties in with his unwilling scowling presence, ‘host’ reinforces the ‘mosaic of young heads’ who mean nothing to him
- He is arrogant
- Poem is satirical. It satires academia, mocking of status and power deemed by authority and distinction
- We are in Eisenbarts perspective
- We do not have any physical features of the women, besides the hair or the hands. Thus there is a reinforcement of identity
- Dominance of the creative power of art over the logical voice of reason, ‘voltage’
- ‘Virgin’ has many suggestions: are they unused to shaking hands? has he never shaken their hands before?, or is this the introduction of the young girls sexuality that will flood the end of the poem?
- The language used when the titian girl shakes his hand contrasts the rest of the language used
- ‘He felt its voltage fling his hold from his calm age and power….’ There is a sudden power in ‘voltage’, alliteration in ‘felt…..voltage….fling…..from’ and a contrast in his normal ‘calm age and power’
- The violence of the girls touch is vividly conveyed. It has an association with ‘his rose hot dream’ that suddenly invades him
- Oxymoron ‘the sage fool’ and the lying together of the two sources of passion in ‘trapped by music in a copper net of hair’
- Mozart – the girl- was able to take and trap all through the music
- Captured in a moment of pure creativity and genius, of beauty

Prize Giving
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.

He took

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 playing 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.

Alter Ego

- Three techniques which are evident: Rhyme- first, third, fourth lines, ‘still, ill, will’ and ‘hear, clear, ear' Use of first person ‘I’ Alliteration- music repetition also
- “and go on paths of love and pain to meet you, face to face,” this contains a duality of love and pain, paths- conflict between the creative and the family self. Different paths shape self and the ego.
- Alter Ego- omniscient
- Embedded in the poem is the question “who am I?”
- First person contributes to identify formation very much
- In the later stanza Harwood tries to make her poem mare concrete. Music. It becomes a metaphor for the creative self.
- Art itself goes beyond constraints and time, thus does music. Music and art make the alter ego timeless
- shadowy presence- ego
- ‘desolating drift’- dreary, boring, empty
- alliteration- barren. In itself the temporal existence does not make us complete
- life is a combination

Alter Ego
In this poem the speaker acknowledges and explores her inner self, or alter ego. She describes the alter ego as a part of herself that has intimate and complete knowledge of her yet acknowledges that her conscious mind does not have a complete and full understanding of this ‘other self’. The speaker expresses a longing for ‘wholeness’ suggesting that to know herself fully there needs to be a resolution between her ego and alter ego.

In the opening stanza of Alter ego, the persona queries both the identity of her alter ego and its extensive knowledge of her:

‘Who stands beside me still,
nameless, indifferent
to any lost or ill
motion of mind or will,’

From the outset there is an evident longing for a sense of wholeness.
In the second stanza a connection between Mozart and his genius is made with the persona and her alter ego (allusion).

Harwood uses the simile:

“dry crickets call like birds”.

to compare the sound of crickets with birds. Because she associates the sound with her first love it becomes musical. A blown flame is used for a metaphor for this love. In the final stanza of the poem a metaphor of life as a journey is presented.

The tone of the poem is one of thoughtfulness and the speaker is comforted by music and memories.


New Member
Oct 4, 2007
Readings For Gwen Harwoods Poems

A Variety of Readings

Romantic interpretation/reading

‘Alter Ego’ - Focus on the link and relationship between the persona and the alter ego.
The spiritual aspects of the alter ego being all knowing, and the personas knowledge being incomplete. It is all about experience and individual spirituality.
The temporal nature of the personas physical existence. The connection of her temporal existence and the everlasting of nature.
The metaphor of music is used to transcend time and represent timelessness and creativity. Reference to nature is metaphorically expressed in Harwood’s subtle link to himself and the surroundings.
Notion that death will unite the alter ego and the persona.
Also someone of pantheistic approach/view of the ego. Music like Water. Water is life and essential.
Herself as a burnt flame. The water stops the flame, symbolizing Harwood’s mortality (reinforcing it).
Art survives its creator. Romantics with modernist.

‘At Mornington’- Water is the unifying motif. Through nature the persona can be granted spiritual significance. Approaching not only death but also the day of judgement. In one sense the poem is about the hope of being saved, not to enter hell. God, her saviour.

Psychoanalytic/Freudian Reading
It will focus on how the emotions and thoughts of the persona/character in the text emerge out of their past experiences that have been repressed. This refers to characterization and revelation about human nature and experience. The critical application for psychoanalytical concepts generally fall into three categories:
- Emphasizing the author’s psychological conflicts as evidence in his or her work
- Focusing on the way in which texts allow readers to access hidden desires and fears
- Analyzing the characters in a text as if they were real people
Such an analysis of the characters may involve the reader finding subtext 9the unconscious, or covert, motives and feelings0 communicated in the characters speech or action.
Psychoanalytic literary criticism may also discover conflict and competing desires in a text. This could involve looking for images, symbols, metaphors, conceits, superstitions, myths and objects that have sexual connotations.

‘At Mornington’ - would focus on how the persona shifts between the past and the present and dreams and reality throughout the poem in order to come to fully appreciate the present and comes to terms with her future and the inevitability of death
Glass Jar’ - focuses on the incident depicted in the poem as a reflection of the composers need or desire to resolve issues within their own paternal relationships.
* The rivalry between the boy and his father, and how this influences his image of his mother is significant
"...his comforter
lay in his rival's...
... violence done to her"

this alludes to the Oedipus complex, a concept central to the psychoanalytic theory that explains the unconscious desire of a child for a sexual relationship with the parent of the opposite sex and the rivalry with the same sex parent ensues from that. [WW]

Also linking to the Oedipus theory is the fact boys grew out of this phase due to the fear of being punished by their fathers

"his father held fiddle and bow, and scraped assent to the malignant ballet"

it is clear that the boy is getting punished through a violent dream involving his father and therefore closely links to the Oedipus theory,

Also significant to a Freudian reading is how the monsters he views at night are "envenomed with his secret hate" and use this knowledge to harass him. These monsters are merely a creation of his mind and therefore suggest that he has potential for evil thoughts and desires. [Tennille]

Alter ego’ - will focus on the lack of resolution between the ego and alter ego. The metaphor of life as a journey suggests that regardless that it seems that the person and alter ego are in the process of becoming unified, they never actually do. The feeling of inadequacy that our expectations, consequence of not knowing the whole self. The desire for complete understanding of the conscious and unconscious selves.

‘The Violets’ – the role that memories play in overcoming feelings of loss and except the transient nature of our existence.

Dominant Reading - reflects the stereotypes dominant within the society to which it belongs. It favours the most dominant members of a culture, reflecting the values and attitudes of the figures of authority within it-for instance the media....etc

Feminist Reading - will focus on how women are represented in it, as well as the relationship between men and women. A tenet of feminist thought is that masculine (patriarchal) ways of perceiving and ordering are ‘inscribed’ into the prevailing ideology of society. Analyzing texts from a feminist perspective can demonstrate how patriarchal assumptions are communicated.
In patriarchal societies, language contains binary oppositions of qualities, such as active/passive, reasonable/irrational, head/heart, reason/feeling or strength/weakness. It is argued that the feminine is always the less desirable of the two.

Harwood refuses to sentimentalise little girls, or say that they are entirely innocent or devoid of cruelty. This is shown in the poems ‘At Mornington’, ‘Prize Giving’ and ‘Father and Child’.
Her comments are on a patriarchal society, one controlled by men.

Prize-Giving’ - "It is significant that the prof has been invited as an honoured guest to a 'GIRLs school speech night'. The suggestion is that his achievements as a successful MAN will "lend the occasion"

In addition, the prof's disdain for the occasion, having rudely declined the initial invitation and the achievements of the young women who hands "He shook/indifferently" he sees them as a collective group rather than individuals.

*Interaction between the prof and the Headmistress is significant to a feminist reading. The fact that he is "supurb in silk and fur' and she is dressed 'humbler in black' suggest that there is an imbalance in power between the genders.

Notably the head fusses and fawns over the professor, she is presented as subservient to him

Interaction between eisenbart and the redhead girl. From the outset the relationship between them is a power struggle. The prof first notices her as she mocks and mimics him.
"One girl sat grimming at him, her hand bent,
under her chin in mockery of his own"

however as the girl accepts her award the girl established immediate power over the prof.

The provocative connotations of the girls actions as she "hitched at her stocking" and "winked" prior to accepting the award are particularly significant. The implication that the girl gains power over the prof thru virtue of her sexuality.

A sage fool of a man becomes uncertain and unbalanced by the ‘titian haired girl’.

The prof's loss of power and autonomy as she draws "his stare with her to the piano" contributes to the construction of an image of a woman with power who should be feared by men. The titian-haired girl is ascribed with the qualities of a seductress, whist her musical talents and the achievement of the music award is marginalised. [Simmey]

‘Father and Child’ – A feminist reading would foreground the patriarchal symbolism through references to ‘Old King’; the death of the owl and its links to the feminine and the defeminisation of the daughter, who, like Lear’s daughters, has attempted to rob her father. The reversal of their positions. The lack of a mother figure.

‘The Glass Jar’ – The mother assuming the stereotypical gender role of, nurturer and passive sexual partner. It is she who is depicted as having the burden of rising in the middle of the night to comfort her son. ‘would not turn her face from the gross violence done to her.’

‘The Violets’ – The stereotypical representation of gender roles. Mother as nurturer and embodying femininity and the father as the bread winner.

Post Modern Reading - focuses on how meaning is constructed through the connections between texts (inertextuality). Therefore post modern challenges the idea that meaning is a reflection of values.

In this Harwood makes us aware of our limitations, forces over which we have no control.
She does this by: relating an authentic personal experience in a private and personal world, and, extrapolating from this the larger concerns that people face.
Modernist texts are concerned with the inner life of the persona. This introspection is at the heart of many of the poems: ‘The Violets’, ‘At Mornington’, ‘Father and Child’, and ‘Altar Ego’. In these poems she seems concerned with the truths that lie beneath the surface and just how formative a seminal childhood can be later in life.

Marxist Reading - concerned with the potential of a text to influence and control people through the values and beliefs it represents. It considers literature in terms of how it reflects class struggles and economic conditions. It distorts a picture of society by showing it from a particular point of view.

Prize- Giving’ - A Marxist reading of prize giving would be critical of the view of society presented in the poem and analyse the power relationships between the various characters and how these are influenced by various factors, such as gender, age, education and rank.
It is significant that the poem presents a distorted view of society, in that the school is clearly a middle class institution. The Head, as the leading representative of the school, values pomp and ceremony, having gone to great lengths to create an atmosphere of importance, added to by the attendance of professor Eisenbart 'an honoured guest'.

It is significant that the poem does engage in light - hearted ridicule of the speech-night tradition and the Head's illusions of superiority.

Prof Eisenbart is clearly a member of the privileged class. His academic superiority is evident through academic gowns. As a member of the upper-class he distinguished himself from the masses.

It is significant that the girl is presented as an insubordinate member of the masses, inferior to the Prof in education, age, gender and yet presenting a challenge to him. This could be interpreted as symbolic of her challenging the middle-class, patriarchal beliefs and the values that both the prof and the school represent. Through the actions of the titian-haired girl, the prof is exposed to as a 'sage fool'. He and the element of society that he represents is ridiculed and trivialised" [Simmey]

New Criticism - theory that was extremely influential in the mid-twentieth century-- it basically revolved around the idea that context and composer's identity has nothing to do with a text, and texts should thus be analysed completely as a separate identity [Clerisy]

Christian Reading

‘Father And Child’ –The child assuming the role of God, master of life and death. Allusion to the old testament of Samson ‘robbed of power/by sleep’. The word ‘wept’ has strong connotations. Continuing biblical symbolism in the ‘early sun’ and ‘times long promised land’. The child can even be compared to the prodigal, who after abandoning his father returns for comfort.

‘The Glass Jar’ – the eternal struggle of good and evil represented through words like ‘disciples’, ‘exorcise’, ‘holy’, ‘bless’, ‘lost’ and ‘resurrected’. The boys’ fear of evil is ultimately conquered by good, ‘his monstrance stood’.

‘The Violets’ – the comfort and stability offered by a traditional family unit, roles are unequivocally defined.

‘Alter Ego’ – the contemplation of the omniscient, omnipresent and spiritual self. It is only through the acknowledgement of this alter ego that we can truly achieve our potential. A belief that, only at the end of life will, the two selves be reconciled in immortality.

Felix Jones

Mar 5, 2007
Re: Readings For Gwen Harwoods Poems

hahha i think u scared alot of people from the title, they prob think u need help (so did i), but thanks for these notes, ur a legends and a half.
shame i didnt have thse before my trials (wk8 term2), it would have helped me heaps. but thansk anyways, will be use ful for hsc.

yay go chickalana!!! :D :D :D

Felix Jones

Mar 5, 2007
Re: Gwen Harwood Analysis Of All 6 Poems

OMG u blooody awesome duddet. ty.


New Member
Oct 4, 2007
I may have used info from other sorces but I put everything together so people wouldn't have to go searching for the little individual pieces. Plus I added a deeper insight, the notes I got were garbage, at some points, and didn't make any sense so I had to fix them up and make them understandable. So therefore they aren't the same notes and I didn't copy them and don't really need to reference. And if you want to be technical everyone writes the same crap just in a different way so don't get all shitty with me and keep your dumb ass coments to yourself.


New Member
Oct 4, 2007
If someone attacked your work then you would deffinetly also go onto the defensive, so don't lecture me. And how would you know if i plagarised or not. You must spend alot of time on this website. You're 21 and did your HSC 4 years ago don't you have a life? I'll give you a tip. Get a life and stop spending your time attacking people who are trying to help others by making their life easier. I'm helping people by giving them useful information and all you're doing is making people like me feel bad and attacking them even though we're doing something good and helpful that will benifit others. I don't go around pointing out other peoples so called mistakes and neither should you.
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