Time and Memories

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Critical Study of Texts: Gwen Harwood – Advanced English Assessment Task 5

Gwen Harwood’s poetry has provided me and hopefully you with some great wisdom and insight into our lives. Today I will be making meaning from the texts “At Mornington” and “The Violets” by Gwen Harwood. I am here, as a seventeen year old student, giving my own response through the analysis of the themes “Memory” and “Childhood to Adulthood”, the techniques which support them and through the application of psychoanalytical readings to her poetry. What we will see is that there are links present in what the composer is trying to say and in the critical interpretations of her poetry

Memories make the individual understand who they are, wouldn’t you agree? Without them we would just be robots. For example, just this morning I remembered a childhood memory of India. I remembered that everyday I would try and reach the light switch which always seemed so far away. Before I knew it, I could turn the light on and off with ease. It was only this memory that allowed me to reflect that from as young as a child I had been trying to reach things much higher than me. Who here could imagine not having any memories of their childhood? In the poem “At Mornington” by Gwen Harwood the fragility and nature of memories is questioned while it is concluded that it is through memories that one can accept death. The composer often uses the structure of her poetry to create meaning. For example, “At Mornington” is completely written in free verse, which means the composer’s thought process is allowed to be flexible supporting how memories suddenly come about. Let’s face it; memories do not exactly follow a rule… They just come, sometimes with or without a trigger. This is exactly the case in “At Mornington” where the composer is left with an unexpected spark of memory while she stands with her friend on the parents’ grave. The composer describes this spark through a simile comparing this behaviour of memories with ‘light in a sea-wet shell’. The ‘light’ in the ‘sea-wet shell’ refers to the numerous colours produced when the light is focused on a common sea-shell. This to me means the childhood memories that we suddenly come across are diverse and in a way colour our lives. The most important message in this poem is the finality of death, and the role memories play in accepting it. The composer thinks of death ‘no more’ when she thinks of her father and more so the time spent with her friend. I can see the time with her friend metaphorically meaning the ‘peace’ of this day. This is the ultimate ‘peace’ for the composer as she approaches that inevitable death. I know you do not want to think of death right now but it is inevitable, and it is always assuring if memories are on our side. When I am older and nearing death, I can cling onto that nostalgic memory of reaching higher to reach the switch, and I can even tell my kids about it. There are many ways poems can be interpreted, there is my personal view but there are also other macro views. There is the Christian viewpoint that would argue that the memories of her father refer to God, and it is the memories of him that allow the composer to confront death because fathers as we know are a source of comfort, and in this case the fathers represent the ultimate father: God. However I do not have a strong Christian background, and I would rather see things through a psychoanalytical approach. In addition, I believe a psychoanalytical perspective applies better to the themes of Harwood’s poetry as the psych and its effect on the persona is explored. A psychoanalytical perspective would argue that memories are used to come to terms with the present psychological state. For example, the memories of her friend and of her father impact her to think of death ‘no more’. More so, light imagery is recurringly used to represent memories. For example the light refracting on the shell can be seen as a representation of the vivid and...
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