Harwood, Poetry Essay, Research Paper
Poems, although they can be appreciated individually, are better understood if the reader sees them in the context of the poet s other works. One such poem that benefits from being approached in this way is Mother Who Gave Me Life . Mother is one of several poems Harwood wrote about motherhood and the role of women in society.
The title and first line of Mother centralises the role of women and implies that giving life is not a brief moment of experience, but a life-time of nurturing, care, influence and sacrifice. This theme is also explored in the other women poems, including Suburban Sonnet and An Impromptu for Anne Jennings . In these poems Harwood portrays the role of women in the domestic sphere as a difficult one, full of sacrifice and anguish, but fulfilling in the end. She does not condemn the role of women; rather, she celebrates it. This is evident through the repetitious links of the women with symbols of domesticity. In Mother the mother s face is compared to fine threadbare linen/ worn still good to the last and the daughter s memories of her mother are those of the domestic scene; a lamp on embroidered linen, / my supper set out, your voice/ calling me in . Harwood focuses on the menial everyday tasks women were expected to fulfil, in order to compel the reader to recognise the importance of women in society. In the women poems, men are often marginalised or silenced all together. They are merely seen in the background, as the providers and power holders. This emphasises the importance of women in these poems, seeing them as the light in the darkness. It is the light of a lamp and the mother s voice that remain long after darkness/ falls on my father s house.
The women poems especially celebrate motherhood and a mother s influence on her child. Mother and Anne Jennings both explore this in depth. Harwood sees the mother as the life-giver and source of wisdom to the child. In Mother the daughter feels regret for not learning all that she could from her mother s wisdom. She wishes that her mother could have lived a little longer to see/ Halley s comet a second time . However, although there is a deep sense of grief in the poem, the persona feels no remorse relating to her mother s death, as her relationship with her mother gives her a sense of belonging to an endless chain of women, spanning back to the beginning of time. In Anne Jennings , the beauty and joy of motherhood in the latter stages of life, when their children are adults, and the torment of spirit that comes with young children, are explored. The women in the poem surrendered themselves to the tyrannic kingdom of their children, but have now risen up to a greater glory to be compared to gods or blessed spirits . Harwood portrays an overwhelming sense of peace in the aftermath of raising children.
The theme of women rising above the torment of suppressed spirits is also evident in Mother when the persona speaks of the wild daughters becoming women . She portrays the development from innocence to wisdom as one full of anguish and pain, a taming of the spirit. In Anne Jennings the women s intellect represents their spirit, and in the day to day business of raising children, their spirit seemed to have got lost along the way, only to rise up again later in life when their children were adults.
The wisdom a mother passes on to her child is also explored in the women poems. The mothers in Mother and Anne Jennings are associated with the fundamental sources of life, such as ice, rock, (and) fire . These elements symbolise the perpetual wisdom of the generations of women being passed on through the decades. The use of light to symbolise wisdom is also present in Mother as in some of Harwood s other poems, such as The Violets and the first of the Father and Child poems, Barnowl . The lamp on embroidered linen symbolises the mother s wisdom and influence in the child s life, but the embroidered linen keeps the mother within the domestic realm.
Aging and death in Mother are seen as inevitable, necessary, even beautiful stages of life. There is a sense that the mother is only leaving this world in the temporal, and that her spirit will live on through the memories of her child. This idea of temporal versus spiritual is also dealt with in Nightfall , with the statement things truly named can never vanish from this earth summarising the underlying theme of many of Harwood s poems, including Mother . It is the memories of the daughter that will keep the mother alive, the references to the fabric of marvels , the remembered hours that make up the memory of the mother in the daughter s life. The Violets is another of Harwood s poems which explores memory and the images of the final stanza of each poem parallel; the domestic scene, the mother setting the table as sun sets on my father s house .
Gwen Harwood s poems are all inextricably linked in certain areas or techniques. While it is possible to appreciate a single poem on its own, it must be seen in the context of her other works to gain a richer understanding and greater insight of the poem. Mother Who Gave Me Life , while beautiful and poignant, can be far greater understood if the reader has background knowledge of the themes and ideas presented in the other women poems and other poems such as The Violets and the Father and Child poems.