Gwen Harwood - Power of Memory.

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Memory is used as a powerful conduit into the past; childhood experiences held in the subconscious illuminate an adult’s perception. Harwood uses tense shifts throughout her poetry to emphasise and indicate the interweaving and connection the past and the present hold. By allowing this examination of the childhood memories, Harwood identifies that their significance is that of an everlasting memory that will dominate over time’s continuity and the inevitability of death.

Three poems written by Harwood that emphasise the idea of memory’s importance and its ability to alter and determine perceptions are ‘Father and Child’, ‘The Violets’ and ‘At Mornington’. Each of these poems reminisces on pivotal experiences that modify one’s assessment of death, life, relationships, experiences and knowledge secured through memory.

Harwood uses the line, “they told me”, in ‘At Mornington’ to emphasise its reflective quality, expressing that this memory is a memory she herself may not necessarily remember vividly, but has been told of it by her parents. The persona of the poem, created by Harwood, believes she can “walk on water” and that “it was only a matter of balance”; signifying the naive belief of her youth that she can is capable of such defiance, yet this defiance is later juxtaposed by the reality that nature will inevitably leave its impression through the metaphor “our skin begins to wear”. Harwood uses such juxtaposition to highlight that through this memory, she can see that with age, has come knowledge.

In contrast to ‘At Mornington’, ‘Father and Child’ is used to convey a more vivid and disturbing story of how past experiences can alter a person’s present and future. The child’s sex is left ambiguous, and only through intertextuality with Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ can it be said that the ‘child’ is female as to follow the father-daughter storyline of the play. Harwood has stated that this poem is not autobiographical, yet it is rather symbolic of past...
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