Gwen Harwood: Changing Of The Self Essay, Research Paper
In Gwen Harwood?s poetry, the changes in an individual?s perspective and attitudes towards situations, surroundings and, therefore transformations in themselves, are brought on by external influences, usually in the form of a person or an event. These changes are either results of a dramatic realisation, as seen with shattering of a child?s hopes in The Glass Jar, or a melancholy and gradual process, where a series of not so obvious discoveries produces similar reformation. An example of the later case would be Nightfall, the second section of Father and Child, where the persona refers to her forty years of life causing “maturation”. For the most part these changes are not narrated directly but are represented by using dynamic language techniques to illustrate constant change in the universe of the poem.
One of the significant aspects of “changing self” covered in Harwood?s poems is the process in which, a child?s innocent mind, like a blank page, is inked and tainted by some experience. Their hopes, dreams, beliefs, founded on their naive perspective of life, and the way the young restyle themselves consciously or subconsciously as they make new discoveries are all explored.
In the poem The Glass Jar we witness the heart-wrenching episode in a little boy?s life, where he is made to discover a distressing reality. Putting his faith first in a monstrance and then in his own mother, he finds himself being betrayed by both. With the many allusions to nature \(for example the personification of the sun and references to animals and woods and so on\) Gwen Harwood constructs a dynamic backdrop which allow the responder to dwell on the subtle shifts in the child?s personality. The setting is the terrain of nightmares and dreams, where conscious will is suppressed and the reigns are handed to the subconscious mind.
By making subtle changes in the ways dreams are portrayed, she shows us that the boy has been changed by his experiences. Before “the betrayals” the dreams are quite indefinite, relying on incomplete images of pincers, claws and fangs to represent the horror. The lines, “His sidelong violence summoned/ fiends whose mosaic vision saw/ his heart entire” are literal indications of his incapability to comprehend what is happening to him. Then he wakes and attempts to seek comfort from the monstrance. His hopes for a miracle, brought on by his innocence, “fell headlong from its eagle height.” Then he runs to the “final [forbidden] clearing that he dared not cross,” forgetting in his desperate fear, all the inhibitions placed upon him. It is here that he is again reminded that “his rival” and contender for the love of his mother, has been taken preference on, and his plight is ignored.
The readers will now clearly see through his “secret hate,” even if there is no evidence that the boy himself has realised consciously that it is directed towards his father. Defeated and in anguish he returns to his nightmares. This time round the dreams become more definitive. The father appears, conducting the dance of death and actually directing the monsters that haunt him. This shows that his subliminal self has learned, to some extent, the cause of his pain, even if he is still hasn?t managed to consciously comprehend the events.
The early learning processes of the young are potrayed more adequately in the poem Father and Child where an older child, this time a girl at a rebellious age, experiments with the constraints of authority in an attempt to seek control for herself. This experimentation leads to an important discovery in her life; death is real and unclean. Just like The Glass Jar, the allusions to nature show the certainly of change and setting the tone for the events.
“Daybreak; the household slept. I rose… I crept out with my father?s gun. Let him dream…” Using such highly narrative fast paced \(an illusion created by delivering it in pulses\) and confident language to show the single mindedness of the young, Harwood describes the actions of the girl as she creeps out at daybreak to the barnyard. There she was to prove to herself that she and not her father is in command of her own actions. Possibly not realising the effects of death at such a young age she fires a bullet into the owl?s body. The pace of the poem changes as two or more verses dwell on the horrible death:
bundle of stuff that dropped, and dribbled through loose straw
tangling in bowels, and hopped
blindly closer. I saw
those eyes that did not see
mirror my cruelty
Her father comes to her side and makes her carry the responsibility she had assumed to the end by asking her to kill the animal.
In contrast to innocence of the young, Gwen Harwood also attempts to understand death and how it changes the personality of the people experiencing its influence. In the second part of Father and Child we see a middle aged woman, a completely different person from “the child once quick to mischief,” attempting to cope with her father?s imminent death. Set appropriately in the twilight of the day we are taken through the feelings of the women who is narrating the story herself. In stark contrast to the narrative of Barn Owl, the language of reflection and memories constructs Nightfall:
Who could be what you were?
Link your dry hand in mine,
my stick-thin comforter.
Far distant suburbs shine
with great simplicities.
Birds crowd in flowering trees,
At a much slower, more controlled pace we toy with the many faces of death, trying to penetrate its mysteries. References to time and transience fill these verses. Intervening with the many allusions to nature we see constant movement and change; “since there is no more to taste… Father we pick our last / fruits of the temporal.” But this time the approach is less seeking, more slow and uncommitted, reflecting the calmness and control acquired by experience.
More than death itself, Harwood?s poetry shows how many people fail to accept death. Their belief in immortality and fear of the end is also potrayed in Nightfall. Although when the subject of the poem is death, the words describe life, as if reluctant to face up to reality. The images are of suburbs, lights, birds and trees. Even with so many experiences, many of us will forever be ignorant seems to be the truth ringing perpetually though Harwood?s verses.
As we can gather from the examples, Gwen Harwood uses language to create dynamic backgrounds and images to subtly delineate the changes experienced by the persona in the poems. Sometimes the characters themselves are not aware of these changes but the readers are able to appreciate them with the aid of skill Harwood posses in using language to such great measures.
*If you want notes on change, bladerunner/BNW, King Lear and Frontline please click here. The notes were compiled at the end of the year and therefore are considerably better than this essay*!