Gwen Harwood's Poetry - Loss and Consolation

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Gwen Harwood’s poetry focuses on the concepts of loss and consolation, which, through her exploration of universal themes and deft use of poetic and literary techniques, has continued to engage readers over the ages. My understanding of her poems resonates with these ideas about them, as does it the notion that Harwood’s poetry examines ideas of the growth towards maturity, understanding and wisdom, and the connection this shares with the conventional images of youth and age. The poems “Father and Child” and “Mother Who Gave Me Life” are prime examples of these core ideas being conveyed explicitly through Harwood’s language, context and construction of poems. The diptych poem “Father and Child” describes the event that changes the lives of a father and child forever, and in the latter half, reflects upon how this event shaped their views and attitudes towards the gruesome subject of death. The first part of the poem, “Barn Owl” tells the tale of the persona, a small child that we are led to believe is female through the use of language, who is transformed from ‘innocent’, to ‘a horny fiend’ and finally to ‘afraid’. This transformation is also illustrated by the use of progressive actions in each stanza; “I rose”, “I stood”, “I watched”, “I saw”, “I fired” and finally, “I leaned”. Harwood uses enjambment to show how quickly the persona changes and to show the ongoing flow of time. In this poem, Harwood challenges the stereotypes associated with young girls by the demolition of the persona’s innocence when she shoots a blameless barn owl with her father’s gun in order to feel the power of taking a life; her existence is juxtaposed with her actions. The sensory image of “urine-scented hay” is symbolic of how strange the situation is. She is shocked at the horrendous nature of the murder “a lonely child who believed death clean and final, not this obscene bundle of stuff that dropped and dribbled”. The alliteration and onomatopoeia of “dropped and dribbled” creates...
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