Gwen Harwood Analysis Essay
Gwen Harwood Analysis
In “The Violets,” the persona experiences a transition from childhood innocence to experience, sparking the process of maturation. This idea of childhood innocence is a Romantic ideal, and the process of growth that one experiences from this state of innocence to adulthood takes place when the persona learns about the inevitability of time. The dialogue, “Where’s morning gone?” is representative of this realisation, with the rhetorical question reflecting the child’s confusion at this stage of life when one is innocent and unburdened by certain mature knowledge. Also, the noun, “thing,” in the emotive lines, “used my tears to scold the thing that I could not grasp or name that, while I slept, had stolen from me,” refers to time and its namelessness symbolises the fact that it is abstract and unreturning, and incomprehensible to a child.
This is what makes a child innocent and, Romantically invested; this is what Harwood is shown to value through her poetry. The emotive word, “tears,” and the dramatic verb, “stolen,” further exemplifies the harsh realities that accompany maturation and signify a loss of innocence. In these lines of the third stanza, there is a tone of sadness and despondency as the persona comes to terms with what the inevitability of time means for one’s life: that, regardless of when the process of maturation begins, one’s time is always limited. As Harwood’s poetry deals with the significant universal themes of personal growth, maturation and loss of innocence
In addition, the persona’s experience of maturation is reflected in the growth of the violets and other natural references, further demonstrating the Romantic influence within this poem. Throughout the poem, there is an extended connection between nature and humanity, a connection which once manifested as a Romantic ideal. In the third stanza, set in the past, there is a description of the violets as “spring violets in their loamy bed,” with the descriptive terms, “spring,” and, “loamy,” creating imagery of youth and rejuvenation, reflecting the persona’s also youthful state at this time. This is contrasted with the first stanza, set in the present-tense, where the violets are described as “frail,” and, “melancholy,” in the context, “I kneel to pick frail, melancholy flowers,” and invest the poem with notions of decline, representing the inevitability of the growth and aging of all life, human or non-human. In this stanza, the persona is also older, and so, the imagery of the violets reflects the growth and change of the persona.
Furthermore, the persona’s acceptance of growth and decline, and therefore the persona’s process of maturation is represented by the natural reference to “dusk,” another Romantic reference, in the context, “dusk surrendered pink and white to blurring darkness.” The descriptive term, “blurring,” which is symbolic of blurring the line between acceptance and rebellion against the inevitabilities of life, marks the point when maturation begins as the child decides to accept this. Also, the descriptive colours, “pink and white,” carry connotations of softness and calm, reflecting the persona’s experience of solace after the transitional period of growth into maturity. The time of “dusk,” is also symbolic of wanning life, again, Romantically connecting nature and humanity as they share the same inevitable life cycle.
In “The Violets” Harwood connects the power of memory with Romantic ideals to reveal the futility in resisting the unstoppable cycle of life. You may have noticed that throughout the poem, there is a motif of the violets. These flowers are an element of nature, an entity of high value to Romantics, and they are symbolic of remembrance and memory. The violets are presented in the poem’s present-tense introduction, “I kneel to pick frail, melancholy flowers.” Through the descriptive words, “frail,” and, “melancholy,” nature becomes a reflection of humanity, as the violets, which, in this case, carry a tone of weakness and decline, mirror the state of the persona at this time. This idea that all life, including both nature and humanity, inevitably faces degradation is highlighted when this present-tense description of the violets, a Romantically valued aspect of nature, is contrasted with the past-tense description in the idealised memories of the persona.
Within these memories, which are identified through a structural indentation, the violets are described as being “spring violets in their loamy bed,” with the descriptive terms, “spring,” and, “loamy,” creating imagery of youth and rejuvenation, and again acting as a reflection of the persona’s condition and age. Just as nature experiences a cycle, as does humanity, and, through a Romantic perspective, this exemplifies the idea that is the force of nature cannot overcome the trials of time, then neither can other forms of life. This realisation is represented through a contrast in the past and present states of life, demonstrated through the power of memory, and leads to an acceptance of the inevitable life cycle which is propelled by time.
In “The Violets,” it can be seen that within the stanzas that portray memories, there is evidence of Harwood’s religious faith, demonstrating the power with which Harwood invests this theme. In the childhood memory of the persona, her mother-like figure likens to Christian images of the Virgin Mary who often held purple violets, and which were symbolic of her humility in confronting the ending of life. This is because the violets, in terms of this religious iconography, symbolise mourning, foreshadowing the death of Christ, and therefore the inevitable suffering and death of humanity. This connection between religious faith and past memories emphasises the importance of memory from a religious perspective, reminding the reader that even Biblical figures experienced the grief associated with death. Throughout the poem, there is a motif of light, specifically, references to “lamplit presences,” a metaphor for memory. This idea of “light,” connects to Biblical images of Christ, who was believed to be “the light of the world,” and to give, “the light of life.” This is an allusion to the ‘eternal life,’ and, in conjunction with her past memories, this motif of light lightens the burden of looming death. Through memories of the violets and maternal relations, Harwood highlights religious undertones to facilitate the acceptance of dying through the power of memory, an important theme in Harwood’s poetry.
“The Violets” is invested with anxieties about death and aging, and Harwood projects the theme of death onto nature and its cycles, a Romantic ideal. Elements of nature, specifically the violets, are described as “melancholy,” and, “frail,” in the context, “I kneel to pick frail, melancholy flowers.” These descriptive words represent the degradation of life which accompanies time. The time of day, “dusk,” another Romantic reference to nature, is, in a way, connected to the persona, as it is a time of transition, much like the status of the child who experiences the transition from fearing and fighting her approaching demise, to accepting the inevitability of time. When “dusk” is referenced in the context, “dusk surrendered pink and white to blurring darkness,” it becomes a metaphorical representation of the persona succumbing to death, emphasised by the descriptive term, “blurring,” which is symbolic of blurring the line between acceptance and rebellion. The descriptive colours, “pink and white,” carry connotations of softness and calm, reflecting the persona’s experience of solace after the transitional period. The time of “dusk,” is also symbolic of wanning life, Romantically connecting nature and life. Harwood explores the notion of dying and how crucial it is to accept this.
Harwood was highly religious and this is revealed through her poetry, particularly in “The Violets,” which deals with themes of death and explores the transience of time. Harwood presents her audience with funerary imagery. For example, the oxymoron, “ashes and loam,” in the description, “flowers among ashes and loam,” is suggestive of traditional funerary rights, referencing the “ashes to ashes” custom, and the idea of dirt being thrown on a coffin, with the noun, “flowers,” also being symbolic of placing flowers at a grave. By connecting religion and death, Harwood uses her faith to console herself about age and decline.
When the child of the poem experiences the revelation of the powers of time, which she, symbolic of her childhood ignorance and innocence, refers to metaphorically as, “the thing I could not grasp or name,” she becomes distraught, and cannot undo what she has learnt. This alludes to the Biblical “Tree of Knowledge,” with the information being irreversibly gained, and causing sorrow, represented through the emotive words, “tears,” and, “scold,” in the metaphor, “[I] used my tears to scold the thing,” with, “the thing,” again symbolising time. Harwood reflects the need to understand and accept the process of aging as it is essential for well-being. Through religious references to death and aging, Harwood comments on the inevitability of facing decline and degradation.
Harwood demonstrates a value of relationships, and, “The Violets,” influenced by Romantic ideals, demonstrates the idea that relationships assist one with the revelation that humanity is fleeting. Throughout the poem, filial bonds are surrounded with connotations of warmth, comfort and consolation. When the child first discovers that the day has escaped her, her mother attempts to console her, “she…carried me downstairs to see spring violets in their loamy bed.” The references to birth and innocence, through the metaphor, “spring violets in their loamy bed,” not only reminds the audience of the transience of youth, a reference to the Romantic value of childhood innocence, but, when in conjunction with the verb, “carried,” highlights the role of family in understanding and accepting this fleetingness.
The embedded section of the final stanza presents a Romanticised, idealised memory of family and connection. Harwood describes the image, “my father…with tenderness stroking my mother’s goldbrown hair.” The nouns, “father,” and, “mother,” represent these filial connections, while the connotative terms, “tenderness,” and, “goldbrown,” invoke sentiments of harmony, warmth and security. Through these connections between relationships and cosiness, Harwood demonstrates the impact of relationships upon accepting the inevitability of death.
Harwood’s religious faith resonates throughout “The Violets,” and exemplifies the comfort and support bought about by relationships. Just as Mary consoled Christ, this poem alludes to the Fall of Man, with the mother figure providing comfort for her child, similarly to Mary. When the child realises the suffering that accompanies mortality, she describes her mother’s role, “she dried my tearful face as I sobbed.” The verb, “dried,” is representative of a mother’s care, easing her child’s sorrow about the trials of life. The reference to “Kedron Brook,” in the final stanza, “stone-curlews call from Kedron Brook,” refers to Harwood’s hometown, and carries connotations of the family connections which reside there. This is also a Biblical reference, as it connects to the brook of Kedron in Jerusalem. Christ had to cross this brook, and it marks the location where he made peace with his Father, God. The persona metaphorically crosses her brook of Kedron, and in doing so, makes peace with her parents, who have consoled her, and therefore makes her peace with dying. These universal symbols of religion, in association with family and childhood connections, ease the acceptance of mortality.
Artistic Creativity or Passion:
“Father and Child”:
Maturation and Growth:
In “Father and Child,” Harwood presents a threshold, defining experience of the persona, making it a transition from innocence to experience. . The opening word of the first part of the poem, “Barn Owl,” is “daybreak,” and this foreshadows that the child will experience an awakening which sparks the process of maturation. The persona of the poem experiences a loss of innocence with the discovery of the tragedy of death. Before shooting the owl, the child believes they are the “master of life and death,” with the noun, “master,” reflecting the power that the child feels and the ignorance that the child has about the nature of death. This description of the child is later contrasted in the fourth stanza, “I watched, afraid by the fallen gun, a lonely child who believed death clean and final, not this obscene bundle of stuff.”
The emotive term, “afraid,” represents the change in the persona’s attitude after being exposed to the harsh reality that is mortality. Also, the growth and maturation in the persona is exemplified by the juxtaposition, by way of contrast, between the descriptive terms, “clean,” and, “obscene,” which show both the child’s previous ignorance and their new found knowledge. This stanza is invested with religious imagery which further denotes the child’s loss of innocence. The reference to the “fallen gun,” is a Biblical allusion which symbolises the Fall of Man and reflects the idea that knowledge has been acquired and knowledge is unreturnable. Furthermore, the title of the poem, “Barn owl,” contains the noun, “owl,” which is both a religious symbol of death and a symbol of wisdom, foreshadowing that knowledge and wisdom is accompanied by the process of maturation. Finally, the dialogue, “End what you have begun,” is an imperative command which refers to the process of maturation and carries with it the idea that maturation is inevitable and must occur as a part of life.
In part II of “Father and Child,” “Nightfall,” the same idea about growth and maturation is carried through. In this part of the poem, the persona accepts the inevitability of death and therefore completes the process of maturation. The second stanza contains the line, “since there’s no more to taste,” which is a Biblical allusion to the apple and the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, symbolising the fact that there is nothing left to gain from the process of maturation. Romantic references to nature connect the natural world with humanity and demonstrate that growth and the life cycle are inevitable for all forms of life.
The natural reference, “sunset,” in the fourth stanza line, “sunset exalts its known symbols of transience,” is symbolic of decline and, as referenced, of transience, and this transitional period marks the persona’s transition from innocence to experience which accompanies decline and aging. By extension, the verb, “done,” in the final lines of the sixth stanza, “your marvellous journey’s done,” emphasises the conclusion of maturation, which is further highlighted by the lines of the final stanza, “the child once quick to mischief, grown to learn what sorrows, in the end, no words, no tears can mend.” The verbs, “grown,” and, “learn,” represent the maturity and knowledge gained by the persona, with the nameless, “what,” referring again to the harsh reality of death.
Memories and Death:
Part I of “Father and Child,” demonstrates the memory of a defining experience and shows significance due to this moment’s impact on the rest of the persona’s life. This poem is related in the past-tense, as if told as an anecdote, a memory or reflection upon a threshold experience on one’s life. Throughout the first three stanzas of the poem, there is a tone of mischief and playfulness, however, this turns to a tone of lamentation for the remainder of the poem, conveying the power of this memory to bring the shock of the realisation and knowledge about the trauma of death. This memory is so significant because of what it begins; maturation, and because of what it teaches the persona. The child, stealing the father’s power to take life, sees himself as the “master of life and death,” a power which the child does not understand, and this is highlighted by the description of the child as the “wisp-haired judge,” which juxtaposes, by way of connection, ideas of youth and ignorance.
Ironically, the child is breaking both the law of man, and, in a Biblical sense, the laws of God, referred to in the Old Testament: “Ye shalt not kill,” and, “honour thy father and thy mother.” The child acts as Eve did in the Garden of Eden, giving into the temptation of the “horny fiend,” and eating from the Tree of Knowledge. This causes a loss of innocence as knowledge about death is gained, a significant realisation of growing up, and therefore a significant childhood memory. The child wrongfully objectifies the owl, metaphorically labelling it as his “prize.” The synecdoche, “punish beak and claw,” further represents this and the fact that the child can only see and focus on parts of the owl, symbolically denotes the fact that that the child is blind to the enormity of what they are about to do.
The first three stanzas are invested with a tone of suspense, for example, the line, “holding my breath,” and, the short, sharp sentence, “my first shot struck.” This reflects the immensity of the event, and therefore the place of this memory in the child’s life as significant. The visceral imagery of stanzas five and six further exemplifies the horror of the moment and why it has become embedded in the persona’s memory. The verbs, “dropped,” “dribbled,” “tangling,” and, “hobbled,” are used to describe the actions of the dying owl, and “the bundle of stuff,” that falls out of its body. These verbs each carry connotations of mess, shock, and revulsion, and, in conjunction with the nouns, “bowels,” and, “blood,” the gravity of what the child has done is reflected, and thus becomes a defining memory for the child.
Part II of “Father and Child,” demonstrates the adult life of the persona in “Nightfall,” and the impact of their defining childhood memory, in which they discovered the truth about death and learn to accept this. Harwood turns to her Romantic ideals to soothe the gravity of knowledge acquired and understand what was learnt in the memory of killing the owl. The persona turns to nature, a Romantic ideal, focusing on images of abundance and fertility to counter the childhood memory of “Barn Owl,” which is so full of death. The persona reflects, “you keep a child’s delight for ever in birds, flowers and shivery-grass.”
The nouns, “birds,” “flowers,” and, “grass,” are all elements of nature and carry pleasant connotations of imagery of a peaceful landscape full of life and living things, however, death makes its ubiquitous presence even in the descriptions of nature, “sunset exalts its known symbols of transience.” Sunset symbolises finality and a conclusion, foreshadowing her father’s deaths, and the reference to “transience,” highlights the Romantic sensibility that shapes the imagery in the poem, for the Romantic poets were focused on the transience of humanity’s existence. By introducing death into this natural reference, the responder is shown that the childhood memory of the owl’s death has had an impact on the rest of their life, however, it is accepted with the assistance of the solace which is provided by nature.
Similarly, Harwood shows, through both parts of the poem, “Father and Child,” that fathers are significant figures in one’s life, acting as a guide through childhood and assisting in the process of maturation. This idea is highlighted by religious allusions. In “Barn Owl,” Harwood employs a Biblical allusion to the Fall of Man symbolically through the child dropping the gun with which they shot the owl, “I watched, afraid, by the fallen gun.” This references the fact that the child has now learned the horrible truth about death, with the emotive word, “afraid,” emphasising the child’s response of shock, and the child’s now new and unreturnable knowledge of death. However, later in this poem, the father arrives, “my father reached my side, gave me the fallen gun. “End what you have begun.”” The positional verb, “side,” highlights the father’s relationship with his son as one of significance as he is providing support and comfort with the realisation of death, a catalyst for maturation.
Also, this second allusion of the “fallen gun,” with the father picking it up, is symbolic of a father’s assistance and guide through maturation. The dialogue, “End what you have begun,” is an imperative command which further identifies the father’s strength and teaching role in a child’s life, with this command referencing the fact that the child must continue with the process of maturation as it is a significant aspect of life, however, the father’s presence indicates that filial relations can help with this process. In the second part of this poem, “Nightfall,” the persona learns, through their father, the need to accept death, and so concludes the passage of maturation. Harwood describes the father’s acceptance of death, “you find, with your white stick the path on which you turn home,” the noun “home,” is a Biblical reference to returning to God in heaven, and, by the father accepting that death will come and this will happen, he allows his child to learn that death cannot be stopped, no matter how horrific it is.
The poem comments on the success of the father’s role, “with the child once quick to mischief, grown to learn what sorrows, in the end, no words, not tears can mend.” These final lines of the poem denote the child’s acceptance of knowledge regarding death, conceding, with the aid of a relationship with their father, that death is inevitable, and that a finality of maturation comes with the acceptance of humanity’s transience. These two poems, through religious references, show how one’s relationship with their father can prepare them for the knowledge that accompanies adulthood.
Harwood’s poem, “Father and Child,” also employs Romantic elements and presents the idea that when one progresses from childhood to adulthood, a loss of innocence is experienced, however, through the guidance of relationships, this transition is facilitated and a semblance of innocence may be maintained. Throughout “Barn Owl,” the owl, an element of nature, is symbolic of wisdom and death, and through the child’s actions of killing the owl, he gains the wisdom and knowledge of mortality, and in doing so, experiences a loss of innocence. Childhood innocence is of specific value to the Romantics, and the father’s assistance in this experience of gaining knowledge of death attempts to ease this loss. The verb, “leaned,” and the emotive word, “wept,” in the lines of the final stanza, “I leaned my head upon my father’s arm and wept,” represents the child’s close filial bond with their father and the comfort that such a significant human relationship can bring. This position of the child leaning on the father, also maintains the child’s youthful and vulnerable persona, symbolising that comfort from a father can maintain at least a skerrick of innocence.
In the second part of the poem, “Nightfall,” the roles are reversed slightly, with the father using his relationship with his child to return to a place of innocence before death. In the fifth stanza, the lines, “you keep a child’s delight for ever in birds, flowers, shivery grass,” contain a cumulative list of natural elements, a connection to Romantic values which symbolise the father’s regaining of innocence. This is made possible through his relationship with his child, represented through the metaphor of the “child’s delight,” existing within nature, and since nature is eternal, according to the Romantics, this demonstrates that innocence can be preserved forever, to be regained before, and to facilitate one’s passage into death. Harwood combines a value of nature with the theme of significant relationships to exemplify their ability in easing the trials and tribulations of life.
Memory and Artistic Human Expression:
Harwood’s “Triste, Triste,” is influenced by her religious values, and highlights the timeless value of divine moments in which one feels close to God. The juxtaposition of the spiritual and transcendent coital experience represented in this poem is connected with the resurrection of Christ. The Biblical allusion, “body rolls back like a stone, and risen spirit walks to Easter light,” contains the simile, “body rolls back like a stone,” which connects the body in the spiritual post-coital moments with the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb. This connection highlights how such experiences can bring one’s spirit closer to God. Also, the reference to a “risen spirit,” at Easter-time, further connects the persona’s euphoric and transcendent spiritual experience with the resurrection of Jesus, and therefore connects the persona with God.
Since religion is still a significant aspect of humanity, “Triste, Triste,” appeals to a broad audience. From a religious interpretation, the audience is reminded of the power of God over the mundane existence of humans. During the divine experience of the spirit after intercourse, when one is connected with God, the heart, the symbol of one’s physical being has to call the spirit back to the body, “And heart from its prison cries to the spirit walking above.” The term, “prison,” is a metaphor for the body and reminds the audience of humanity’s mortality. Harwood uses her religious values to demonstrate the timeless and universal value of divine and transcendent experiences. However, she also concedes that transcendent moments do not last forever, which is perhaps what makes them so significant.
In “Triste, Triste,” Harwood uses Romantic elements to highlight the inspiration and joy that can be achieved through human creativity, and since everyone deserves this kind of human expression, Harwood’s poem holds a broad appeal. The dialogue in the poem, “remember me,” contains the emotive word, “remember,” and references the idea that Harwood is using artistic creativity and expression, values of Romanticism, to preserve a part of herself in the present and future, so that, after death, she will remain and be remembered. This invokes a sense of joy which is required by everyone, especially when reminded of the mortality and transience of humanity, and therefore demonstrates the value of Harwood’s poetry. The final line of the poem, “to peace in the paradise of sleep,” includes the verb, “sleep,” which alludes to the notion of dreams, and dreams are a place where imagination and creativity is unleashed, and, in conjunction with the emotive term, “peace,” exemplifies the idea that solace may be found through artistic creativity and expression. Since creativity is widely valued by society, Harwood’s poetry holds significant and broad appeal.
“Triste, Triste,” explores the importance of intense human relationships through the influence of Romantic elements. This poem is filled with romantic physical connections, for example, the post-coital contact of “eyes against shoulder,” with the positional verb, “against,” signifying the comfort that can be drawn from a relationship, and from human experience. This idea of intense human experience is a Romantic value, and Harwood invests this into her poetry as a way of idealising life’s defining moments, such as defining relationships. During the coital experience, the persona experienced a transcendent spiritual awakening, another Romantic value. With reference to the soul, the final stanza explains, “[the spirit] falls from its dream to the deep to harrow heart’s prison.” The metaphor, “falls from its dream,” reflects the soul returning to the body after such an intense expression of a relationship.
During the divine experience of the spirit after intercourse, the heart, the symbol of one’s physical being has to call the spirit back to the body, “And heart from its prison cries to the spirit walking above.” The term, “prison,” is a metaphor for the body and reminds the audience of humanity’s mortality, and therefore of humanity’s fleetingness. However, Harwood demonstrates that relationships can provide solace after this realisation of mortality and of the transience of human life and experience. This is emphasised by the emotive words, “loved,” and, “comfort,” in the first lines of the final stanza, “so the loved other is held for mortal comfort,” which further exemplify the powerful abilities of relationships, as the persona, is comforted after their soul returns to their body.
This poem is also invested with Harwood’s religious ideals as she personally valued religion and used her poetry to explain that relationships with individuals can bring one closer to God. The juxtaposition of the spiritual and transcendent coital experience represented in this poem is connected with the resurrection of Christ. The Biblical allusion, “body rolls back like a stone, and risen spirit walks to Easter light,” is both symbolic of a physical relationship with another human, and of a divine spiritual relationship with God. This allusion contains the simile, “body rolls back like a stone,” which connects the body in the spiritual post-coital moments with the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb, therefore connecting the persona with Jesus via an intense spiritual relationship. Also, the reference to a “risen spirit,” at Easter-time, further connects the persona’s euphoric and transcendent spiritual experience with the resurrection of Jesus, and therefore established a relationship between the persona and God.
Response about MEMORY:
Harwood’s poem, “At Mornington,” also utilises ideas of memory and Romantic influence to understand the process of life. The Romantics valued the personal experience, and the use of first person within this poem represents the idea of personal and emotional memories. The personal pronoun, “I,” in the experience, “I leapt from my father’s arms,” emphasises the persona’s personal memories with nature, with the verb, “leapt,” reflecting the enthusiastic embrace of nature. This action of carelessly leaping into the water is symbolic of a child’s ignorance of death, due to innocence and youth, another Romantic value. The personal disposition of the poem allows the persona to emulate her spiritual connection to the divinity of nature.
In a memory, signified by a structural indentation, the persona recounts, “I dreamed once, long ago, that we walked among day-bright flowers.” The use of personal pronouns, “I,” and, “we,” again symbolises the Romantic element of personal reflection. The description, “day-bright,” is symbolic of life and youth, and is later contrasted with “night;” being representative of death and ending, in the recollection, “then, as night fell, you said, “There is still some water left over.” This dialogue, containing the symbolic noun, “water,” portrays the acceptance of death, through nature, as it provides the semblance that regardless of what age brings, memories, symbolically represented through, “water,” will always survive. Harwood demonstrates the power of memory to change one’s perception of mortality.
Again, “At Mornington,” like “The Violets,” is invested with religious imagery, in association with Harwood’s representation of the theme of memory and the important role it plays in life. Water is a repetitive symbol throughout the poem, and when the persona revisits the memory of leaping into the ocean in the poem’s introductory stanza, it appears reminiscent of baptism, a ritual cleansing required before death, returning the persona to a time of innocence and connecting to cyclic ideas.
There is also a Biblical allusion to Jesus walking on water, with the persona conceding, “I remember believing as a child, I could walk on water,” with the noun, “child,” representing naivety and innocence, again referencing the idea of returning to a time of religious and spiritual purification, with the noun, “water,” again symbolising memory, and how returning to childhood memories, where innocence and purity manifests, one can spiritually prepare themselves for death. The motif of light, reflected in memories, and in the present, represents the everlasting need of the human condition to return to a time of purity before death, referencing the religious belief of heaven, and providing a semblance of hope and security, facilitating the acceptance of death with the promise of an afterlife. Harwood relates the idea that memory provides a religious education which raises emotions of hope and solace regarding the gravity of death.
Response about LIFE, DEATH and AGING:
Harwood closely examines the human experience in her poem, “At Mornington,” and represents the inevitable force of death through Romantic values. There is a motif of water throughout the poem, an element of nature, and of value, and therefore an indicative component of Romantic idealism. For example, the noun, “wave,” in the recount, “I…was caught by a wave and rolled like a doll,” is representative of the inevitable and overpowering force of nature, time and death, emphasised by the simile, “like a doll,” which demonstrates the powerlessness of humanity in the face of such a force. The fact that this is a personal reflection, portrayed through the use of personal pronouns, such as, “I,” is another Romantic element, and highlights Harwood’s idea that everyone must come to terms with the transience of life through the human experience.
This idea that the human experience prepares one for death is emphasised by the cumulative list, “I…am rolled in one grinding race of dreams, pain, memories, love and grief.” This list encapsulates the human condition, and Harwood suggests that one experiences these entities with age, and they prepare one for death and enable them to accept the decline accompanied by time. Harwood’s poem, when viewed Romantically demonstrates the power of time and death.
Harwood invests “At Mornington,” with her own religious reliance, and, uses this to demonstrate the theme of death as part of a spiritual cycle. The Biblical allusion, “as the drying face of land rose out of the earth’s seamless waters,” references the book of Genesis which contains the parable of the Great Flood, meant to cleanse humanity of sin. This allusion refers to preparing one for death, by cleansing their soul. Harwood comments on the spiritual and emotional acceptance that occurs with age and an understanding of death.
Also, the metaphorical, “hand,” in the final stanza, “I am seized….no hand will save me,” references the ‘hand of God,’ and the fact that God cannot prevent death as it is a part of the cycle of life, and, as a devout Christian, Harwood, and the persona in the poem are reconciled to the idea of death by holding faith in God and the promise of a peaceful afterlife, demonstrated by the emotive word, “peace,” in the context, “the peace of this day will shine,” with, “this day,” symbolising the last day of life. Harwood comments that religious can assist with the reconciliation of death and degradation.
Response about RELATIONSHIPS:
“At Mornington” references Romantic values and demonstrates the theme of relationships as an integral aspect of finding solace in age and decline. The second stanza, containing the noun, “friends,” in the personal, present-tense description, “we stand, two friends of middle age, by your parents’ grave,” carries connotations of time passing and causing age and decline. The pronoun, “we,” and the description, “middle age,” emphasises that this is a Romanticised, personal experience, invested with a sense of revelation and a nostalgia for childhood innocence, also reminiscent of Romantic values.
It also reveals that these “two friends” have been together throughout their lives, and that their companionship and the fact that they are now facing death together, facilitates their acceptance of death. Romanticism also held a value of the human condition. The couplet, “we have the wholeness of this day to share as we will between us,” contains the alliterative terms, “we,” “wholeness,” and, “will,” which denote tones of hope, and connection which come about with human relationships, an aspect of the human condition. Through Romantic influence, Harwood demonstrates the mutual comfort that comes from friendship and acts as an antidote to the anxieties surrounding death.
Like in “The Violets,” Harwood’s, “At Mornington,” is invested with an essence of her religious spirituality which evokes ideas of flourishing relations as a cure to the apprehension of death. The persona recalls walking through “Brisbane gardens” with a friend, demonstrated by the pronoun, “we,” and the noun, “gardens,” in the past-tense recollection, “we walked among…Brisbane gardens.” This venture alludes to the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man, with the persona walking through the “garden,” with a friend, referencing Eden, before she and her companion gain the knowledge of what it means to be mortal and experience the Fall, that is the irreversible revelation of the inevitability of death.
Also, the lines of the final stanza, “At your side among the graves I think of death no more,” contain the positional verb, “side,” the funerary reference of “graves,” and the noun, “death,” in conjunction with the negative terms, “no more,” to combine ideas of companionship, spiritual well-being and death. This highlights the religious notion that friendship and other relationships are strengthened by religious faith, and bring about a spiritual peace that prepares one for life after death. Harwood’s religion offers her hope of an afterlife, and the idea of companionship following her through life and into death; softens the blow of mortality.