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Gwen Harwood’s poetry endures to engage readers through its poetic treatment of loss and consolation. Gwen Harwood’s seemingly ironic simultaneous examination of the personal and the universal is regarded as holding sufficient textual integrity that it has come to resonate with a broad audience and a number of critical perspectives. This is clearly evident within her poems ‘At Mornington’ and ‘A Valediction’, these specific texts have a main focus on motif that once innocence is lost it cannot be reclaimed, and it is only through appreciating the value of what we have lost that we can experience comfort and achieve growth.
Gwen Harwood’s poetry explores the reality of human existence, utilising a number of personal experiences in order to impart meaning onto the responders.
The poems, At Mornington and A Valediction, explore countless thematic concerns including the loss of childhood innocence, comprehending mortality and maturation of individuals. Utilising a regular variation of tense, between past and present, and her own personal relationships with others, Harwood’s poetry provokes an appreciation of the past, and reinforce themes, which highlights their universal significance.
Within the beginning of the poem At Mornington, Harwood explores a childhood memory, at “the sea’s edge”, in order to highlight her apparent childhood strength in her naïve belief that she could defy nature by “walking on water/it’s only a matter of balance”, only to be saved by her father.
This nativity is reinforced in the parable of the pumpkin, which grew upwards in “airy defiance of nature”.
The biblical allusion with the attempt to walk on water reinforces the blind faith and innocence of the child which is contrasted to the personas self-awareness and acceptance of her own mortality, “at the time of life, when our bones begin to wear”. This childhood recollection can be deemed as the commencement of her acceptance of death; however it is only upon self-reflection on this experience as an adult that the persona can come to a complete acceptance of her own mortality, as portrayed in the simile “the peace of this day will shine/like the light on the face of the waters”. Similarly encompassing this experience is night owl, in which the child persona is blind to the nature of death, regarding herself “wisp-haired judge…the master of life and death”. Gwen Harwood’s poetry is steeped in romantic traditions and is underpinned by humanist concerns.
Throughout Harwood’s poetry there is a continuing theme where human existence is characterised by loss and consolation. Like At Mornington, A Valediction explores the importance of the balance between physical and spiritual love. Harwood explores the nature of both form of love and how each is needed to develop ultimate love. Harwood suggests that poetry can offer comfort and deepen the human understanding of life and love. This is portrayed through the use of sarcasm, rhetorical questions, direct speech, allusions, metaphors and imagery. This poem presents the basis on which the sorrow of physical separation can be transformed into joy this is evident within “my lover will come again to me, my body to its true end will give him joy” and depicts the emphatic tone and confidence in which her husband will return and is presented through future tense. This reflects on the interrelation between flesh and spirit in love and the necessary mix of the spiritual if love is to survive physical separation. Harwood’s A Valediction raises the idea that as humans we change and develop over time with a new sense of maturity and contentment with life. In this poem Harwood speaks about a farewell as she alludes to past poem by John Donne.
However, she moves from a literal experience and memory to pensive reflection in order to create a contrast between the younger and older character. This is used by writing about movement from the past to the present and including its effect on the future. The varies of tense further highlights the changes over time as she focuses on the dualities of self and the universal emotions.
In my thoughts, Harwood’s poetry engages readers through its poetic treatment of loss and consolation throughout relationships as well as its exploration of universal themes about human existence and processes of life. Harwood’s poetry validates the consoling influence of childhood experiences upon adult development evident in both At Mornington and A Valediction where they both explore one sense of loss and consolidation. Harwood cleverly includes personas with their own feelings and anxieties to outlook on the present and future and the power of memories held with past relationships. Relationships link within Harwood’s poetry as throughout life she experiences suffering and includes her personal voice and life within the story of her poem.
In conclusion, Gwen Harwood deals with the constant relevant issues of loss and consolation by the enduring power of poetic treatment of age and youth. In my opinion, on the most profound of universal truths, there is no certainty in life and we must deal with events and situations as we encounter them. Harwood’s poetry distinctly presents a slight difference throughout exploration of the relationship between age and youth, which has greatly shaped my own understanding of these specific effects. Her unique and personal manner allows the responder to not only form a deep empathy with her words, but also to critically consider one’s own life and experiences.
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