Gwen Harwood's Poetic Distinction: Themes and Language Techniques

Categories: Human Nature

"Ideas and the way those ideas are presented are what makes a poets' work distinctive. Choose 2 poems from 1 poet and describe how they show the distinctive characteristics of this poets' work. Gwen Harwood skilfully employs language techniques to explore a variety of distinctive themes and ideas in her poems. This is seen in 'In The Park' where Harwood explores the human condition through the simplistic and dull life of her female protagonist, while in 'Prize Giving' she explores multiple universal themes through her male protagonist Professor Eisenbart.

Harwood effectively establishes a simplistic image through her title 'In the Park' to imply the mundane simplicity of the place, the people and the idea. This is enhanced through the simplistic first line as the woman "sits in the park". Here we are introduced to the protagonist with her depressingly dull and monotonous life, clearly portrayed through Hardwood's image in describing how the protagonist's "clothes are out of date". This not only portrays her shabby physical appearance but also the idea that she lives in the past and that time has passed her by.

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The use of negative connotation describing how her "two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt" adds to the depressing mood, before Hardwood goes on to tell us that "A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt", helping to further reinforce her lack of purpose in life. The double entendre of the persona being "too late" on two levels effectively conveys that she is "too late" to show disinterest to him and that it is "too late" for her and this lost love to regain a close relationship.

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Harwood's clever employment of the cliched expressions of "how nice" and "time holds great surprises" conveys how dull and pointless their conversation is to reinforce the superficiality of the situation and the pointlessness of their reunion as his "neat head" has no remnant of communication left to share with her. Furthermore, the woman's low self esteem is portrayed as she interprets his of the words "but for the grace of God... " as his relieved sense of having escaped her monotonous lifestyle.

The vague and unimportance of their conversation is enhanced as "they stand a while in flickering light" whilst "rehearsing the children's names and birthdays. " Harwood implies the facade of interest the man takes in the children who "whine, and bicker", yet ironically the woman is talking to the man's "departing smile". Her uninviting and uninspiring lifestyle which is perhaps causing him to leave. A sense of motherly love is represented in he poem as the woman is "nursing the youngest child". The image of the Madonna-like child on her implies something very different when we see her as she "sits staring at her feet", her apathy replaces caring and the boredom of her life replaces her joys of motherly love. The final line of "to the wind she says, "they have eaten me alive. "", conveys that sadly he is gone and that she is alone, with no one to talk to but the wind, to which she voices the truth of her pain and disillusionment.

The ideas from "In the Park" are also reflected similarly in another of Harwood's poems, 'Prize Giving" where the arrogant Professor Eisenbart is contrasted to the dominating Titian-haired girl. The poem immediately establishes Professor Eisenbart as an abhorrent character through the use of connotative language in "rudely declined". The professor is implied as stodgy and old fashioned character "when pressed with dry scholastic jokes" where he changes his mind and decides to "grace their humble platform".

This portrays the humble status of the school in contrast to his arrogance and superiority, which is further exemplified "when he appeared" and "the girls whirred with an insect nervousness", implying that he sees himself as a light they're attracted to. This sound imagery not only suggests the mood of interest in him but also the sound of the assembly as a collective. The head is differentiated "in humble black" who "flapped round and steered her guess, superb in silk and fur", which characterizes her as comparatively less ego-centric that the "resplendently dressed guest.

Alternately, she feels a sense of pride in others around her and in what she is doing when it is clear that Professor Eisenbart concerns only for himself. In the third stanza, the girls are referred to as "half-hearted blooms tortured to form the school's elaborate crest" which creates an image of the flower arrangement that is the assembly. This imagery personifies the girls as reluctant to represent the school, but also symbolises their innocent flowering into womanhood which makes "Eisenbart scowl in violent distaste", conveying that his indifference has turned into revulsion.

The simile when Eisenbart "then recomposed his features to their best advantage: deep in thought, with one hand placed like Rodin's Thinker" further enhances his self image of conceit and superficial self control for appearance sake as he stages this pose in this allusion to the classic thinker statue. Eisenbart vies the girls as a "mosaic of young heads, Blonde, black, mouse brown" as all he sees is a colour pattern of heads and does not acknowledge the girls individually. However, this is changed when "underneath a light... ne girl sat grinning at him, her hand bent under her chin in mockery of his own". Here, a spotlight is shone, in Eisenbarts' mind, onto the titian haired girl who shows an amused perspective as she seems to interrupt him as no one else does. His closer observation now beyond the "mosaic" shoes a flicker of interest in him, as opposed to his previous disinterest. He remains uncaring and uninterested by the "host of virgin hands" until once again he is challenged by the "girl with titian hair" who "stood up, hitched at a stocking, winked at near-by friends".

He notes all this detail move by move as implied by the punctuation in her attitude of directness, self-composure, self-composure and ultimately intention of some act to shatter his power. The youthful titian haired girl challenges "his calm age and power" of knowledge, experience and authority as she transforms before him and becomes a powerful person in her passion and her arrogance well beyond his own. From his indifference, he is now the "suffered" victim to "her strange eyes, against reason dark". Harwood uses figurative language here to emphasize the change of his perspective as the power is now turning to her.

Here there is a challenge between his logical sense of reason and the seeing "strange eyes" of this titian haired girl. They are odd to him because they allude the sense of reason that he lives by and she defies. The power and passion of the girl has "forged his rose-hot dream" and his own power is a fake, a forgery, in contrast to hers. The final stanza in this poem reveals that "age and power" can be challenged as Eisenbarts' false superiority is seen through the "eyes" of the titian haired girl. Synecdoche is employed when Eisenbart is "summoned by arrogant hands" to show the girls power.

She is symbolised by the power of her music, characterized as "titian-haired" to imply her passionate nature and her "eyes" that see through Eisenbarts' superficial superiority and arrogance. Her power is further conveyed as "Eisenbart teased his gown", showing his sexual unease and realisation that his self image is weakened. His perspective changes as the young and fiery girl defeats him by deflating his self- image and superiority. Eisenbart now sees himself differently as he "peered into a trophy which suspended his image upside down: a sage fool trapped".

His composure has left him and his self-image is reflected in her trophy as he is mirrored upside down, symbolically reversed and up-ended. The oxymoron in "sage fool" demonstrates that he is controlled by her power. The ideas presented in Gwen Harwood's poetry is made distinctive through her use of a variety of themes and language techniques. The powerful ideas represented in "In the Park" and "Prize Giving" explore multiple universal themes and give the reader a better insight into the human condition.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Gwen Harwood's Poetic Distinction: Themes and Language Techniques. (2016, Sep 11). Retrieved from

Gwen Harwood's Poetic Distinction: Themes and Language Techniques essay
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