Module B Essay
Gwen Harwood’s poetry utilises a variety of textual forms to explore the complex relationship between memory and the passing of time. Her works address the concept of memory as a means of defying the years’ inexorable march forward, and thus make great use of time shifts and vivid imagery in painting an evocative portrait of time’s passage and its impact upon the individual. Both “At Mornington” and “The Violets” explore the connection between past and present as well as Harwood’s quest for a form of self fulfilment and inner peace as an ideal spiritual state informed by past physical experiences. “The Violets” structures its emotional concern around the act of time’s passing itself rather than focussing on what it is time is passing by. Whilst Harwood does most definitely reflect in great detail on a singular, vivid memory from her childhood, this particular moment is used more as a symbol for a grander concept – that of the simultaneous impermanence and immortality of the past.
The poem begins by undercutting the beautiful, pleasant imagery promised by the title through the terse bluntness of the “dusk, and cold.” Flowers are indeed present as the title suggests, but only “frail, melancholy” ones, gathered by the subservient act of “kneeling” among “ashes and loam”. There is a definite sense of ending – both of the day, and of something grander. The persona’s attempts at engaging with the natural world are crudely rebuffed – she cannot succeed in her musical engagement, merely “try”, which results only in an “indifferent” blackbird “fret[ting] and strop[ing]” under “Ambiguous light. Ambiguous sky.” This unfriendly environment in which the poem begins foregrounds the sense of loss which characterises so much of Harwood’s poetry, an inevitable, confronting finality emphasised by the bluntness of the language and plethora of full stops. The adult world presented here is one of uncertainty, difficulty and ambiguity.