Home of Mercy is a sonnet written by Gwen Harwood during modern era Australia. It depicts the lifestyle of a select few group of “ruined girls”, who have been impregnated and exiled to live with the nuns throughout the course of their pregnancy, in hope of exoneration. It deals with the confronting issue of the loss youthful innocence; is a wrong decision made in your teenage years really enough to have the rest of your social life destroyed? Gwen Harwood’s poem raises the problem of teenage pregnancy.
Pregnancy in juveniles was something that shamed an entire family. With very few options, the young women were forced to live with the Catholic nuns in hope that god will show mercy upon them. The text was clearly written with a clear understanding of the feelings of the exiled women and the obvious suppression undergone by these girls. To some extent, “Home of Mercy” loses some of its power in a modern context because of teenage pregnancies becoming more and more accepted.
I think Gwen Harwood wrote her poem to not only outline the problem of unplanned pregnancy, but for the “onlooker” to have a different perception on this topic. Most people would look at them as “the ruined girls”, but I think Harwood is trying to make the reader feel compassion and sympathy for these underappreciated girls. She implies that they live very harsh lives, and touches on the notion that they aren’t mature physically (or mentally) when she refers to them as having “ripening bodies.
In my opinion, Gwen is blatantly telling the reader that they should see both sides of this argument and not to jump to conclusions about them. The mood of “Home of Mercy” is one of its fundamental tools in persuasion. It contains a very strong emotion of suppression and domination, with a strong influence of a lifeless and depressing overtone. A main emotion is the strict and forceful routine enforced by the Catholic Church. The opening sentence “By two and two… ” already suggests that they are standing in regimented lines.
The next line “at the neat margin of the convent grass” re-instates the sharp, tense lines symbolically representing their sharp, tense lives. The girls are shown as being ultimately dominated; “They kneel”, “their intolerable weekday rigour. ”, “they will launder”. They have no say: “an old nun who silences their talking”, and are forced to do exactly what the nuns tell them or face life-long solitude. “Home of Mercy” is structured like a conventional Petrarchan sonnet (abba rhyming scheme), with a few minor flaws in the flow (line 1 and 4 have 11 syllables, and line 6 has 12).
A strange aspect of the poem is the use of language. The poem is about a group of girls being treated like the scum of the Earth, yet there aren’t many violent or hateful words at all. Most of the meaning is put through symbolic references and metaphors. The most hateful words are sin and brutish, which are only used toward the end of the poem for effect. Visual imagery is also strong in Harwood’s poem. The opening line “By two and two” already gives the reader the impression that the girls are under strict control. angels will wrestle them with brutish vigour” is metaphorically saying that even the sacred angels won’t be by their side; that everyone is against them. “Home of Mercy” has iambic pentameter, with 10 syllables per line in most. A good example of Gwen using sounds to give effect to the poem is “They smooth with roughened hands”, the soft sounds of “smooth” in contrast of the harsh sounds of “roughened” have almost an onomatopoeic effect. Also, the line “faces of mischievous children in distress” contains sibilance of the “s” sound. “Home of Mercy”