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Your class has been exploring the question ‘What will continue to make
Harwood’s poetry worthy of critical study?’
Your personal response has been challenged by another student. Defend your
response through a critical evaluation of Harwood’s poetry, analysing the
construction, content and language of the text.
In your response, refer to THREE poems you have studied.

Gwen Harwood is an Australian romantic poet who wrote primarily in the 1960’s and
1970’s. Harwood’s poetry explores a variety of themes, such as a loss of innocence and
growing self awareness. It is full of rich language, including musical imagery and biblical
allusions, and can be interpreted in several different ways, such as romantically and
psychoanalytically. It is these qualities of her poetry which will continue to make it worthy
of critical study,

Harwood’s poetry is rich in the themes it explores, and this makes it worthy of critical
study. The theme of loss of innocence is mainly explored in ‘The Glass Jar’. The young
boy is innocent at the beginning of the poem, trying to capture light in a jar to scare away
monsters at night. However, he discovers this does not work. The strong metaphor
“Then hope / fell headlong from its eagle height” reinforces this loss of innocence. He
also discovers his parents having sex, and this experience marks another stage in his
loss of innocence. The theme of growing awareness is also explored in ‘The Glass Jar’,
with the young boy gaining an awareness that he is on his own, as well as gaining an
awareness about adult relationships, emphasised by the strong musical metaphor
“Love’s proud executants played from a score / no child could read or realise.
Juxtaposing of “fresh morning” the first line of the final stanza with “ravening birds” in the
second line of the final stanza highlights his new awareness, and loss of innocence.

The theme of a growing self awareness is also explored in ‘Prize-Giving’ and ‘Alter Ego’
making Harwood’s poetry worthy of critical study. In ‘Prize-Giving’, at the beginning of
the poem Professor Eisenbart sees himself as important, “grace their humble platform”.
However, the attraction he feels towards the titian haired girl forces him to re-examine
himself as he “peered into a trophy which suspended / his image upside down.” His
world has been turned upside down as a result of the girl, and the oxymoron “sage fool”
reinforces his new awareness of himself, as well as passion, and the power of youth. In
‘Alter Ego’ the first person pronoun and personification of the alter ego in “knows what I
was, will be, all that I am” reinforces the persona’s growing awareness that the alter ego
is a part of her. This shows she is gaining a greater understanding of herself. The
presence of the themes of loss of innocence and a growing awareness in Harwood’s
poetry make it worthy of critical study as they can enable the responder to learn lessons.

Harwood’s poetry is also worthy of critical study because of its use of rich language,
including musical imagery and biblical allusions. Harwood was a music teacher, so there
is a strong presence of musical imagery in her poetry. In ‘The Glass Jar’ music is used to
describe the boy’s new awareness in the morning “ravening birds began their song” )
Musical imagery also plays a role in ‘Prize-Giving’ to describe the professor’s attraction
to the girl “Mozart told / the fullness of all passion or despair, summoned by arrogant
hands’ where music becomes symbolic of this passion. Mozart also appears in ‘Alter
Ego’, in “Mozart’s cascading thirds.” where music represents the whole person which the
poet is trying to achieve. Biblical allusions are used in ‘The Glass Jar’ and add to the
richness of the poem, as well as giving the poem meaning on a deeper level, such as
“sun’s disciples”, “ready to bless, to exorcise” and “resurrected sun” which have religious
overtones. This imagery is part of what will continue to make Harwood’s poetry worthy of
critical study.

Poetry is, and will continue to be worthy of critical study if it can appeal to different
groups and contexts through a variety of possible readings, and this is particularly true of
Harwood’s poetry. Her poetry can be interpreted several ways, including
psychoanalytical and romantic. A psychoanalytical reading looks at the reasons why
people perhaps behave as they do and often includes sexual references as being crucial
to this behaviour... Examining ‘The Glass Jar’ from a psychoanalytical viewpoint, we see
that the young boy demonstrates aspects of the Oedipus complex, as he is jealous of his
father “his rival” being intimate with his mother “his comforter”. The father becomes an
enemy in the boy’s eyes, reinforced by the devil imagery of his father with “fiddle and
bow”. There is also the presence of the Oedipus complex in ‘Prize-Giving’, only reversed
as Professor Eisenbart feels attracted to the titian-haired girl, yet feels inadequate. From
a Freudian viewpoint we see he is forced to recognise his sexual attraction to the girl in
“he forged his rose-hot dream”. This is significant because in Freudian terms ‘rose’ refers
to female genitals and dreams are a wish fulfilment.

‘Alter Ego’ can also be looked at from a psychoanalytical viewpoint. A psychoanalytical


reading sees the alter ego as another self that they’re not fully in tune with. The
importance and influence of our subconscious self is crucial in this poem and this
reading “Who stands beside me still, nameless, indifferent” reinforces that the other half,
the alter ego, isn’t united in the whole person although that is the ultimate desire of the
persona.

Harwood’s poetry is worthy of critical study as it can also be also read from a romantic
viewpoint, particularly as Harwood is often seen as a romantic poet, who deal with
human emotions and natural processes. ‘The Glass Jar’ sees innocence portrayed as
the ignorance of youth. The idea of storing light in a jar “this pulse of light beside his bed”
is a romantic idea. ‘Prize-Giving’, from a romantic reading sees a figure of rationality,
Professor Eisenbart, compromised by the power of youth and irrational passion. He has
become a “sage fool” however and has been given an experience which, from a
romantic point of view, is far more worthwhile – that of passion. The ability of Harwood’s
poetry to be read from different viewpoints allows a personal response to her poetry to
be formed, and will continue to make her poetry worthy of critical study.

Gwen Harwood’s poetry explores a variety of themes from which the responder can
learn valuable lessons, including the themes of loss of innocence and a growing self
awareness. It is full of rich language, with the poetic techniques of musical imagery and
biblical allusions being present throughout her poetry. Harwood’s poetry can also be
interpreted in several ways, including not only the dominant reading but also a
psychoanalytical and romantic reading. All these qualities of Harwood’s poetry will
continue to make it worthy of critical study.

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