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Gwen Harwood Essay

To what extent does your response to ‘Father and Child’ inform your judgement of this poem and Harwood’s poetry as a whole? (In your essay refer to at least one other poem) For a true appreciation of the sanctity of life and for true spiritual maturation, an individual must accept and come to terms with the frail mortality of human life. Harwood’s poetry uses truly harrowing language to convey how her own personal experiences and relationships have led her to an enlightened state of being, with continual use of religious metaphor and allusion to convey her enriched spirituality.

One of her poems that shows this is, At Mornington, is a reflection of her life, from her early childhood experiences at the beach, to her present middle-aged self, by the graves of her parents. Another that examines this is Father and Child, which is in two separate sections, the first depicting her initial confrontation with death as a child and the second conveying her acceptance of mortality when she is forced to part ways with her dying father. Life is a fleeting and impermanent state that must be treated with an almost religious sanctity in preserving and protecting it.

In Father and Child, Harwood uses the innocent and protected narrative voice of a child to convey the distressing emotions she experiences while watching the pain and suffering of a barn owl, and her shock when witnessing the true nature of death. This is shown in the recurring accumulation of graphic, morbid imagery of the owl as “this obscene bundle of stuff that dropped, and dribbled through loose straw, tangling in bowels…”. This confrontation leads her into a self-discovery of her own brutality (in the metaphor “eyes… mirror my cruelty”) and the need to preserve life.

It also develops her mental and spiritual maturation while coming to terms with the transience of life. Experiences and relationships can also shape one’s appreciation of life and understanding of the nature of death. This is shown in part two of the poem, Night Fall, when, through a mature narrative voice, Harwood explores how, through loss, we can accept the morbid nature of death and truly appreciate life, as evidenced in the last two lines of accumulation as the narrator mourns the loss of her father, “grown to learn what sorrows, in the end, no ords, no tears can mend”. This ultimately furthers her ability to realise the value in appreciating the sanctity of life and accepting the inevitability of death. An acceptance of the transient nature of life is an essential part in achieving an enriched state of being and acknowledging the limits of human existence. The second poem, At Mornington, juxtaposes the innocence of youth in her first stanza with the mature and understanding of her present self, throughout the rest of the poem, to signify the changing perspectives induced by experience and age.

The recurring water motif in “caught by a wave… among rattling shells… on what flood are they borne… fugitive as light in a sea-wet shell…” is symbolic of the various stages of her life and the conflicting nature of emotion, conveying the impermanent and fragile nature of life as she comes to an understanding of its sanctity. Upon reflection, an individual may also find an acceptance of death in an understanding of the transient nature of life, through reminiscing old memories and appreciating the varied yet cyclical nature of life.

This is shown through the consideration of past sentiments in the last stanza, using symbolism, metaphor and an accepting tone in “the peace of this day will shine like light on the face of the waters that bear me away for ever”. Harwood is able to convey this meaning through her poetry so that a responder may be able to reflect upon their own experiences and come to a better understanding and acceptance of life, giving one the opportunity to further their own experiences and enrich their own lives with these wisdoms.

It also leads an individual into a self-discovery of their own personal truths in terms of an appreciation of the life they live. For it is only through an acceptance of the frailty of human life and the inevitability of death that an individual can reach true spiritual maturation and fully appreciate life.


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