Why is Gwen Harwood’s poetry still read today?
The relevancy of timeless themes and issues throughout Gwen Harwood’s poetry is why it is till read in the modern genre.. Harwood’s emphasis on the connection between themes and issues in both modern and past contexts, makes it appropriate for students to study as the appreciation and understanding of her work expands. Themes such as family and relationships, life and death that Harwood displays in the texts of Mother Who Gave Me Life, Violets and At Mornington conveys the idea, that we still need to come to terms with the same issues today as they will always be around.
Harwood’s outlook on family and relationships is still relevant today. She focuses on specific aspects of her life, however it can cause obstacles due to time passing ‘Mother Who gave me Life’ shows how Harwood expresses her love and compassion towards her mother, and the influences she had in her life, showing its relevance in today’s world. In some interpretations Harwood focus’s on Romanticism referring to nature in ‘thresholds of ice, rock, fire’ as she describes humankind’s evolution. However in my opinion the psychoanalytical interpretation dominates this poem because she explains the love and duties of a mother’s sequence, ‘The Sister’ referring to all women are sisters, shown as a sequence of life through memories and thoughts. Harwood shows respect towards her mother in the metaphor ‘It is not for my children I walk… It is for you’ emphasising the centuries of women through time. The literary, critic Patricia Makeham believes this poem reflects on ‘understanding of herself through descendants whilst acquiring skills of life’ through ‘wild daughters becoming woman’ and the noun ‘wisdom’, this I comply with. Harwood appreciates her mother’s qualities of life in recognising an unbroken chain of woman’ as a symbol of family, this relationship of daughter to mother is still strongly bonded in today’s society and so is a strong reason as to why it is still read today. Likewise ‘The Violets’ present a reminiscence of Harwood’s childhood, similar ‘ To Mother who Gave me Life’, using the violets colours white and blue, to symbolise innocence and family love. The use of the Romanticism once again is evident in the alliteration, ‘frail melancholy flowers’ which symbolises how precious her memories towards her family are. However I feel a Psychoanalytical view is more dominant, because of her memories, we definitely can interpret Harwood’s mother, in the use of a personal pronoun “I ran to find my mother” emphasises Harwood’s reliance upon her mother in reference to her journey (life). Her childhood is idealistic with warm domestic images using the simile ‘like ice-cream’ to refer this memory as a happy one ‘half asleep… carried me down the stairs’ the care and affection shown by her mother, and how the purity and hope of the past is always recovered by imagination. I agree with critic William Sumen, as he says ‘Harwood uses nature (violets) to convey her past memories, of how fragile her childhood was’, this makes Harwood’s work worthy of study as majority of human society treasure their childhood memories.
Through examining Harwood’s work she recognises the processes that are ongoing throughout life, with eventually accepting but never understanding death, relating to similar questions about life.
‘At Mornington’ presents a poem which changing tense, past, present and future to represent time passing and the changes within self, the processes of life and death. Harwood once again uses a Romantic approach towards life referring to nature ‘the seasons of Autumn’ linking to the plant cycle where they perish, along with describing everything in the poem that has life as the adjective ‘quick’ reinforcing life is short ‘the day-bright flowers/quick of Autumn grasses’. I on the other hand believe the psychoanalytical interpretation is dominant in this poem as we can analyse love and time passing through memories in the line ‘stand two friends of middle age by your parents’ grave in silence’ represented by a sombre tone highlighting the inevitability of ageing and dying again evident in the metaphor of ‘avenues of the dead’ this reminding us of the setting. I agree with Critic Alison Hoddinot and how she interprets Harwood’s poems ‘ she repeatedly addresses the mystery of human beings through imagination and experiences as she looks for a definition of morality and limitations of flesh’. Harwood’s use of altering tense’ through the poem defines time passing however this poem is still relevant today as people still question and treasure life itself.
Similarly ‘Mother who gave me life’ is a poem Harwood has written with respect to her dead mother, an ode and concentrates on the changes of human experiences from life to death. Harwood uses the Romantic nature to describe life through the metaphor and emotion of pain ‘anguish seasons burning backward in time’ through generations. However observing the poem psychoanalytically I once again identified this as Harwood’s dominant view by revisiting memories of her mother through the 1900’s as time passes to explain love and duties of mothers. Using the material ‘fabric’ through the simile and symbolic imagery ‘your crumpled face like fine threadbare linen’ referring to age and illness and later becomes metamorphosed into ‘embroided linen’ emphasising upon the mother’s life in terms of the fabric that has been embrioded by memories. I acknowledge Critic Patricia Makeham when she states Harwood is a modern poet, ‘she uses personal experiences to engage and to draw attention in realising life and death through powerful imagery’, and this is identified in the use of the metaphor ‘fabric’ in time passing. The analysis of holding onto things that are precious in mortal life through memories, is what has made the poem universal as today’s generation still idolise their mothers.
We still read the poetry of Gwen Harwood because of its universal themes in relation to humans of all ages ‘worrying’ about love, death, life, relationships and times. This is what Harwood speaks about specifically in a psychoanalytical interpretation by revisiting memories, I can relate too making her poetry relevant.