Gwen Harwood Poems
Belonging Is Imposed from Without Rather Than From Within: Comparing “In the Park” and “Room”
Individuals who have experienced an unconventional or life-altering event will inevitably face the judgments of broader society, hence dictating whether such individuals feel a truly valid sense of belonging. This concept of the significance of exterior factors on one’s sense of belonging is portrayed through the novel Room written by Emma Donoghue and Gwen Harwood’s poem ‘In the Park’. In its descriptions, ‘In the Park’ effectively captures the underlying themes of the consequences of motherhood such as a degraded social status and alienation within both personal and societal context. Similarly, Room proposes the hardship of independently raising a child under unordinary circumstances only to be critiqued by the broader society. Both texts emphasize on a mother’s seemingly ephemeral lifetime of fitting in until childbirth, where they are obligated under societal expectations to sacrifice time, personal leisure and factors which once allowed them to belong to the world.
The poem ‘In the Park’ features the idea of a mother withdrawn from ‘societal norms’ to tend to her children. The mother’s “unkempt state” and struggle to adhere with the role of family is conveyed within the phrase “Her clothes are out of date” alongside connotations of spacing out while her children ‘bicker’ at her feet. In addition, her former husband thinks to himself “o but for the grace of god…” after their obligated small talk. This further highlights her degraded appearance which stereotypically does not comply with the expectations of the typical housewife. Therefore, the children in this context can be perceived as the barriers to belonging whilst on the other hand, her failure to conform to social expectations results in criticism.
This notion is also present within Donoghue’s Room, which is nonetheless set in different circumstances in which the mother is forced to raise her child Jack in a confined imprisonment. She strays from the societal norms to provide the best education despite harsh conditions. Withdrawing from the norms in the context of ‘Room’ however explores darker themes contrary to ‘In the Park’. “Nothing makes Ma scared. Except Old Nick maybe.” as narrated by jack, referring to the power the father figure has over the family. These sacrifices the mother makes to ensure Jack’s safety is later backfired when the media labels her as the woman who raised (as quoted) ‘a child of rape’. Thus, she can no longer belong due to the loss of her former social identity. The concept of community based moral and social responsibilities is inferred within the two texts. Hence, responsibilities are perceived as common obligations that are carried out without dispute.
Harwood’s ‘In the Park’ possesses notions of the mother “feigning positivity” despite her desultory lifestyle. The structure of the poem allows distinction between the individual’s expected exterior output verses the true interior thoughts. This is showcased as the mother initially strikes up small talk; “It’s so sweet to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive”. Later however as her former husband departs, the metaphor “They have eaten me alive” silently directed towards her children, serves a strong symbolism of her hidden hardship. The mother is expected to conceal as she cannot articulate her internal thoughts to others as to avoid judgement, and most importantly, to be accepted.
Similarly, in Donoghue’s Room, external barriers to prevent belonging are reflected within societal and personal relations. Whilst the drive to belong is propelled by the protagonist’s longing within, the novel ultimately emphasizes belonging as being dictated by external factors and the individual’s ability to respect moral responsibilities. Donoghue expertly utilizes the problem-solution text structure with distinct chapters marked as imprisonment, escape and living. Ironically however, within the anticipated chapter ‘living’, new issues emerge when the mother battles her inner post traumatic impulses to comply with her obligation to the role of family. Psychological barriers are interweaved within the final chapters as the burdens of adjusting leads to the epiphany that the mother can no longer belong in the same way she once did. She states, “I wish people would stop treating us like we’re the only ones who ever lived through something terrible, all I did was survived”. This conveys her intent of regaining her former identity, despite constant media attention and critique from the broader society.
Personal experiences and beliefs shape the individual’s outlook upon self-identity. However, within the context of this discussion, it is the perspective of broader society that prevents ultimate sense of belonging. Thus, the main ideas in Donoghue’s Room and Harwood’s ‘In the Park’ highlight the loss of belonging due to factors without rather than factors within.
How Journeys Challenge and Broaden Understanding of the World: “Father and Child,” “Spring Hall,” and The Shawshank Redemption
Through the overcoming of past obstacles, a journey may be a catalyst towards the broadening of one’s understanding of the world. Gwen Harwood’s poem Father and Child explore new understandings of mortality engendered by a transformed perspective, whilst Les Murray’s Spring Hail delves into a broadened understanding of life provoked by an abandonment of the past. Frank Darabont’s film The Shawshank Redemption ultimately encompasses both of these notions, thus allowing for a greater understanding of the world.
A journey of maturation requires a change in perspectives, which inevitably leads to a broadened understanding of life. In ‘Father and Child’, Gwen Harwood illustrates this shift in attitude through the characterisation of a female persona at two stages in her life. The metaphor in ‘Barn Owl’, “Master of life and death” illustrates the incongruous power the child possesses, but the oxymoron ‘wisp-haired judge’ alludes to the immaturity and ignorance of the young girl. Furthermore, the symbolism in ‘I saw those eyes that did not see mirror my cruelty’ reflects a change in perspective from an ignorant child not understanding the significance of shooting an owl to conceding the severity of her act. Thus, the persona undergoes an eventual change of perception which arises from a more holistic understanding of mortality, signifying a turning point in her journey to maturity. In the second section, Nightfall, Harwood utilises a Biblical allusion, “time’s long-promised land” to represent the impending death of the girl’s father, which juxtaposes the positive connotations of the Biblical allusion itself. As the second section progresses, it is evident that the persona’s life journey has led to a heightened understanding of life and death, with a sense of fulfillment evoked through the extended metaphor “Since there’s no more to taste ripeness is plainly all. Father, we pick our last fruits of the temporal”. Towards the end of the poem, Harwood adopts a melancholy tone, with the Shakespearean allusion, “Be your tears wet?” conveying the persona’s reconciliation and mutual respect for her father as he approaches the closing stages of his journey. Therefore, through an exploration of Gwen Harwood’s ‘Father and Child’, one can perceive that a change in perspectives may be a catalyst for a broadened understanding of life.
Drawing parallels to Father and Child, Darabont in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), explores how a change in perspectives during a journey may consequently lead to a more optimistic outlook of the world. This is depicted through the protagonist Andy Dufresne, who embarks on an inner journey in prison in hope of redemption for a crime he was wrongly convicted of. The notion of a shift in perceptions is significant in the film, with the tagline, “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free” highlighting the need for a changed mindset, especially on unfavourable journeys. In an opening sequence, Darabont successfully conveys the protagonist’s bleak thoughts through the dark lighting and mis-en-scene of the prison guards and cells. Yet Dufresne reveals an emotional shift from depressed to optimistic, evoked through the imperative tone, “Get busy living or get busy dying”, thus signifying hope in the world outside his prison confines. This notion of hope is reinstated through the dialogue, “Hope is a good thing…no good thing ever dies”, representing the protagonist’s shifted perspective of the world from embarking on an inner journey. Furthermore, the final scene on a sunlit beach reveals the positive outcome of Dufresne’s journey through the use of bright lighting and warm non-diegetic music, juxtaposing previous dark scenes in the prison. Therefore, both Father and Child and The Shawshank Redemption demonstrate that a comprehensive outlook on the world arises from an individual’s shift in perceptions.
A journey of maturation requires an individual to relinquish their past to embrace the future, leading to a broadened understanding of the world. In the poem ‘Spring Hail’ Les Murray demonstrates this notion through the characterisation of a young boy as he embarks on an inner journey into adulthood. Murray utilises the visual imagery of a shed, “in the scent of vanished corn and wild bush birds”, as a metaphor for the boy’s own childhood, conveying feelings of safety and comfort within the building. Upon emerging, the boy feels apprehensive about the near future, with the phrase “we came uneasy at the silence that grew about us, and came out” highlighting his reluctance to leave the protection and familiarity of his childhood behind. As the boy approaches the end of his journey out of childhood, he is fearful of the unknown, emphasised through the repetition in the lines, “we started to trespass” and “while I ate ice, and wandered, and ate ice”. However, once the young boy tests the inroads into his ‘new life’, he realises that he is keen to experience and embrace the future, demonstrated through the rapid pace and verb choices in “time to shatter peace… battering wind, and be rapidly gone”. Thus, it is evident that a greater knowledge and confidence stems from an abandonment of one’s past during a journey.
In the same way, in The Shawshank Redemption, Darabont encourages an individual to abandon one’s past in order for a successful inner journey to occur. During this journey, protagonist Andy Dufresne seeks a new life, connoted through the positive emotive language, “They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory”, thus emphasising the need to surrender past traumas for a broadened perspective of the world. A sense of rejuvenation is exemplified through the characterisation of Dufresne, with a mis-en-scene depicting his hunched shoulders and minimal speech in early scenes juxtaposing his confidence and defiance as the film progresses. Dufresne’s abandonment of his past ‘guilt’ allows him to embark on an inner journey, with the cathartic effects evident in the final scene, symbolised by a high-angle shot coupled with a bright white backlight demonstrating a renewed sense of self. In this scene, is depicted arms outstretched in a crucifixion pose with grand non-diegetic music crescendoing.
Employing unique strategies that nonetheless recall the themes of Harwood and Murray, Darabont utilises a visual Biblical allusion to establish a connection between a broadened understanding of the world and an inner journey. Therefore, both Spring Hail and The Shawshank Redemption reveal that an individual gains maturity and a broader perspective of the world as a result of their overcoming of past obstacles during a journey. Ultimately, an individual’s broadened understanding of the world is a result of transformed perspectives or the relinquishment of the past.
“The Violets” and “At Mornigton”: How Harwood Creates Meaning Through the Exploration of Human Experience
The human experience is dependent on the memories that allow the understanding of time and the transition from youth to maturation, inevitably ending in death. Gwen Harwood’s poem ‘The Violets’ provides an understanding of life’s association with innocence and memories depicting their relationship with mortality through the similarities of the past and present. Similarly, “At Mornington” reflects the nature of existence due to the transition from ignorance to wisdom, depicting the value of memories and how accentuating the value of life can suppress the thought of death. Thus, Hardwood’s works prove relevant to themes of humanity by portraying the power of reminiscences which distract from the dwindling of time; her verse communicates the complexity of past experiences retains a contemplative power that allows humans to resonate their meaning of life.
Hardwood’s use of light as a metaphor of memory and enlightenment portrays the cyclical nature of life. This is evident in her work, “Years can’t move, nor death’s disorienting scale distort those lamp lit presences.” This motif allows an understanding that memories are a transient being that are present even in the moment of death. Hardwood outlines the importance of these recollections as they are vital in the human experience. The repetition of “Ambiguous light. Ambiguous sky” is used to symbolize the transitioning of life and the uncontrollable process of maturing. Hardwood uses this concept to display the dependence of memories throughout the human experience and demonstrates the ultimate power that these memories hold. Hardwood highlights mortality as the end of the human experience, questioning death and its relationship with time. The dialogue “Where’s Morning gone?” uses a rhetorical question to represent the realization of death and the passing of time. “Morning” is used symbolically of childhood as the persona asks why youth is gone and death is near. By doing this, Hardwood exposes the quick pace of life. The poet describes “Frail melancholy flowers among ashes and loam”, using the imagery of delicate “flowers”, symbolising youth and the dim “ashes” representing death to highlight immortality in the human condition. This reveals the complexity of the lifecycle, depicting the close relationship that life and death have. The emotive sentence “used my tears to scold the thing that I could not grasp…while I slept, stole from me” refers to time and its disappearance. By not directly naming the absence of time, referring to it a “thing”, Hardwood emphasizes that time can not return, and once gone, is forever absent. This allows Hardwood to state how time is unattainable and everything eventually leads to death. Thus, Hardwood portrays that the human experience is rapid as the inevitability of mortality is always present.
Similarly, “At Mornington” renders the gaining of perspective of life’s inevitabilities through the process of maturing and how thoughts from the past and present highlight the incapacity of controlling life’s cycle. The persona of the poem has a memory of being “Rolled like a doll among rattling shells”. By using this simile, Hardwood compares herself to a “doll”, a symbol of childhood. Though this, Hardwood implies the powerless feeling as the superiority of the world overpowers the innocent stage where death is a foreign concept. This nativity is soon seen to be brief as the persona changes their perspective when they are “Among avenues of the dead”. Through the change in understanding, the metaphor depicts the transition of innocence to maturity as the understanding of death suppresses purity. By doing this, Hardwood exposes the definitive process of ageing and how the understanding of death is inevitable. Alike from “The Violets”, Hardwood conveys the value of memories in respects to the passing aspect of time. The metaphor “On what floods do they borne” uses a rhetorical question to outline the transitory feature that memories hold, hence communicating the overwhelming sensation of nostalgia. Hardwood uses the metaphor “rolled in one grinding race of dreams, pain …love and grief” to attach memories to these raw feelings, as these four emotions are the basis of life. This highlights the significance of recollections throughout the human experience as they carry important sentiments of the past. In addition to this, Hardwood uses the juxtaposition of “Iridescent, fugitive” to describe memories, outlining the beauty and delicacy of memories, however also relating them as fleeting, describing them as being “fugitive.” Due to this, Hardwood emphasises the importance evoking these recollection in order to fully experience the human condition.
Furthermore, Hardwood renders the connection between life and death and how acceptance is obtained through time. Hardwood uses the change in tense when “light on the face of the waters…bear me away for ever.” The influence of Romanticism can be seen by the reoccurring motif of water to portray the acceptance of death. Through the shift to future tense, the emphasis that life, and everything in it, is temporary, while death is the only definite part in the lifecycle. Relating to this, the motif of water is carried through the metaphor “We have one day, only one, but more than enough to refresh us.” The reference to “day” symbolises the entirety of life, illustrating that we can only live once, but one lifetime is all that is needed. This depicts the acceptance of death can catalyse the appreciation of life in order to live rightly. Likewise, the acknowledgment of passing time and morality is explored in Hardwood’s work “Nightfall” where the “Taste of ripeness is plainly all” reflects on the satisfaction of life when death this known to near.
Hence, Gwen Harwood’s work ‘The Violets’ allows the understanding of the growth throughout the lifecycle, commenting on how memories play a vital role with youth into death. “At Mornington” creates a similar meaning while depicting the beneficial factor in the acceptance of death, exploring the gain of wisdom through the human condition. Through these themes, Harwood explores the meaning of life through the transition of time, overall creating meaning to the human experience.