Themes and Ideas Gwen Harwood Explores in Her Poetry, and How She Communicates It to the Reader

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What themes and ideas does Gwen Harwood explore in her poetry and how does she communicate her ideas to the reader

Gwen Harwood poems such as The Glass Jar and Prize-Giving illuminate concerns fundamental to human experience including life, death, spirituality and human fall from innocence explored abstractly through the prism of childhood experience. The use of binary opposites, metaphors, similes, musical motifs and biblical allusions allow for a multiplicity of responses and readings highlighting mythological, psychological, Freudian and feminist interpretation.

The Glass Jar illustrates the journey of a young boy from childhood innocence to maturity, knowledge and experience. The poem conveys the potential and possibilities of a child’s youth and imagination symbolized by sunlight trapped in a glass jar. The ‘jar of light’ represents the goodness and possibilities of youth which the boy is ‘hoping to keep’ but also laments their transience and fragility. Such images of light assist Harwood in conveying her ideas about the purity and goodness associated with innocence and the extended metaphor of ‘the day’ is symbolic of the life journey. Light is also a biblical allusion representing purity and innocence. Harwood, though, juxtaposes images of light with reference to darkness representing the approaching evils of the adult world. Light and dark indeed, are commonly used to depict the struggle between good and evil. Thus whilst bathed in ‘the reeling sun’ of childhood the boy is lured and tempted by the ‘dreams and darkness’ of knowledge and sin brought to life in vivid images of monsters with ‘pincer and claw’ and satanic images of vampires.

The Glass jar, then, is an allegory representing a much broader canvas than the experiences of a young boy. From a cultural, mythological perspective it is an exploration of mankind’s fall from grace and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Just as Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent, eat from the tree of...
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