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Alter Ego

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"Alter ego"

Alter ego, by Gwen Harwood, is a poem about self discovery through inner journey and spiritual realization. This poem tries to tell the audience about her attempted journey to self discovery. Harwood uses natural references, feminist points of view and even a possible religious telling to the poem. This shows the audience that Harwood acknowledges and explores her inner self, or alter ego, in many different aspects. But the main question Harwood raises is "Who am I?"

An ‘alter ego' is defined as; ‘a very close and trusted friend who seems almost a part of yourself'. Harwood describes the alter ego as a part of herself that has personal and complete knowledge of her yet her understanding of this ‘other self' does not fully exist. The speaker expresses a longing for a ‘wholeness' to understand this ‘alter ego'. This is suggesting that to know herself fully there needs to be a resolution between her ego and alter ego.

‘Alter Ego' is written in first person, however there is some evidence that she actually might not be talking about herself directly, ‘whose pulse is mine', this leaves the audience to ponder the poets choice of words. The poem can be interpreted from a number of ways a feminist reading, spiritual (or religious) reading or a psycho-analytical reading. Each of these gives the poem a different meaning and different perspective of the poet's life.

The feminist reading of this poem is due to the fact that Harwood had some strong feminists in her immediate family. Her mother and grandmother were quite strong women and often protested for equal rights, Harwood was presumed to take most of this role from her mother. In the poem, Harwood compares herself to Mozart, this comparison shows the audience her feminist views that only men are allowed to be creative. This comparison also shows her view of how men are more dominant in society. The disadvantages that Harwood is expressing is that a woman must be a wife and a mother before she has time her own self, "beyond times desolating drift", this is implying her time is wasted doing such mediocre things. The comparison to Mozart also shows her subconscious desire to be treated as an equal. This subconscious desire can also be interpreted in a psycho-analytical reading.

Psychoanalysis is defined as ‘The method of psychological therapy in which free association, dream interpretation, and analysis of transference are used to explore repressed or unconscious impulses'. The alter ego or spirit represented in the poem is the true pure self, this self is a perfect being free from restraints, Harwood is focusing on this freedom which she does not have, ‘save as light's sidelong shift', is referring to her small glimpses of this perfection, but can never get there. This longing for perfection leads to the poet comparing themselves to Mozart, a musical genius of unimaginable talent. The clichéd ‘fine line between genius and insanity' is the self exploration to find her inner self, her ‘alter ego'. This allegory to Mozart is showing Harwood's insecurities about being a woman, although this may be just a coincidence.
The psycho-analytical themes of the poem are to have the persona become one with itself, that is to say the soul, mind and body to become one. The idea that the alter-ego is elusive and unknown to the persona makes this a very deep and meaningful journey for the poet. Harwood using the metaphor of life is a journey, to suggest that we are in seek of our alter-ego, although how close you come you will never be able to become one with in until "time reclaim music and manifest", only in death.

Harwood uses enjambment throughout the poem to create a ‘wholeness' to again give the idea of a perfect connection between ourselves and our spirit, although this seems to be ironic because the poet does not experience this completion to perfection. The language Harwood uses throughout the poem is very controlled and precise, this is done to purposely point out the obviousness that

The poem can also be read in terms of a religious reading, although there is little evidence to support such a telling the final stanza gives some vague ideas about this. "To meet [Y]ou, face to face" this is a reference to who appears to be Christ. The idea of only in death can we be truly reunited with our spirit; Harwood contemplates the omniscient spiritual self. It also might be possible to equate the idea of the alter ego as being the spirit or soul. The only read evidence for this reading would be the last line of the poem. This reading can only be assumed because of Harwood's learned poetry and philosophy, especially the philosophical writings of Wittgenstein.

Throughout the poem Harwood constantly refers to the ‘light'. This light can be seen as a metaphor for the spirit or soul that she is seeking. The reference to the "half-light" may be referring to the fact that she can never get her soul or spirit to come into the light completely. This half-light creates an illusiveness of the self she cannot see, this creates a mood of the unknown. The "desolating drift", Harwood talks about in the third stanza is purposely written in alliteration to draw more attention to the negative imagery. This negativity is used to create a sorrowful effect and make the audience feel sorry for Harwood because she is missing part of herself.

The last few stanzas of the poem Harwood uses recall bringing her past to life, recalling her past love affairs and memories. "Like a blown flame" this simile to the past refers to her past passions and loves. The poet also plays the piano through the last few stanzas which trigger these flash-backs to her childhood. The playing of the piano also shows that she is in contact with her spirit because of her creative nature to play; however, this contact with her spirit is only small in comparison to Mozart's connection.

Harwood is a woman in search of this hidden self, her alter ego. This alter ego is who she really is and what she is all about. The woman describes greeting him but whom he will not answer her. This greeting the alter ego and being unanswered is symbolic of the persona looking for who she really is. At the end of the poem the persona suggests that she won't know until she has lived her life through all the experiences of both love and pain to discover her alter ego at the end.

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