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At Mornington

Sound Effects


Read the poem aloud. Comment on the Sound Effects,  verbal music. It’s rhyme. Rhythm  and melody. Assonance, alliteration. onomatopoeia. etc. (Blending repetition patterns. slow/fast movement, harsh, discordant, sibilance, sotto, allegro,  Rhapsodic, lyrical, elegiac,  upbeat,  blue, staccato,  dirge, ode,   Melody. tone. mood. atmosphere. voice.

The poem begins softly with an account of anonymous family anecdote telling of her first encounter with the sea.

The Tone is conversational, reflective and  contemplative suggesting the passing of time and gaining of wisdom.  From a concrete experience the poem then becomes philosophical with the waters finally taking her away.

II Subject Matter – Context and Background

The poem is closely related to experiences with family and friends beginning with a first sighting of the sea and then introspectively musing on water, memory and death. The meeting with her close friend Thomas Riddell at the cemetery where his parents are buried spawns thoughts of their own mortality “autumn grasses”. This rare moment spent together induced reflection about death, memories, the passing of time and the importance of friendship.

The ability to interweave past and present is Harwood’s most striking feature.

IlI Themes, concerns, issues - values

Memories triggered by the meeting a childhood friend and the realisation that the persona can transcend death because of memories, love, family and friendship. Love and friendships enshrined in memory will protect the persona against time and mortality.

The persona realises that memories change — “as light in a sea-wet shell”.

At the end of the poem there is an acceptance of death. “waters that bear me away forever”.

No change has occurred in the persona’s stubborn and determined nature — “I could walk on water” to “in airy defiance of nature”. However, she now realises that she “no hand Will save her”, but the poem ends in peace and acceptance, as death will be followed by eternity.


Structure: linear, circular, episodic, flash backs,  climactic.     Images: (visual,  auditory, o1factory,  tactile, ,gustatory) figures  of speech:  similes, metaphors, personification, analogy, synecdoche, contrast, antithesis, unity,  irony, Allusions,  etc

“In “At Mornington” elements of the past, present and future are used in images of water — the water of the ocean in childhood, when I believed I could walk on the sea; the water of the dream in which I sat with Thomas Riddell in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens drinking from a pitcher; the water of creation,

the first source of the flux of life; the water of the infinity of death.”

Gwen Harwood — Lamplit Presences

The poem contrasts the unthinking impulses of childhood with the reflective appreciation of middle age. Death has been placed in perspective as only one aspect of life and memories and friendship enable people to transcend death. The persona acknowledges the true value of friendship. This poem was dedicated to Thomas Riddell, Gwen Harwood’s life long friend who encouraged her to change from being a recluse and publishing her poetry using pseudonyms to touring the country as a poet and forcing the literary world to acknowledge the true poet.

Form — the long stanzas and free verse reflect the passing of time and the flooding memories.

Imagery — images of change — persona as a child, carefree and confident to a middle aged person with an aging body — “when our bones begin to wear us”; the earth’s emergence — “drying face land rose”,  “autumn grasses”.

Images of water:  “sea’s edge,  father..streaming with water,  I could walk on water, flood (of memory), earth’s seamless waters,  pitcher of water, drinking the water,  face of the waters.

 Water: the mystery of creation; birth-death-resurrection; purification and redemption; fertility and growth. According to Carl Jung, water is also the commonest symbol for the unconscious.

a. The Sea: the Mother of all Life; spiritual mystery, and infinity;    death and rebirth; timelessness and eternity; the unconscious.

b.     Rivers: also death and rebirth (baptism); the flowing

of time into eternity; transitional phases of the life cycle;

incarnations of deities.

Parable: the pumpkin’s cycle of life and its defiance of nature make it a parable for the person who believes that she can transcend time and age through friendship and memories of her experiences.

Symbolism — light and water symbolise the continuity of life even after death - renewal. The pitcher of water symbolises the importance of friendship.


Approach: Subjective/Objective,  Attitude or ToneAudience,   Style: diction, word play, puns,  connotative/denotative,   emotive (coloured biased,) /demotive, (technical, dispassionate)  clichés, proverbial, idiomatic, expressive, flat,  Jargon,  euphemisms, pejorative, oxymoron.   Gender biases.  Register:  formal, stiff, dignified  or Colloquial;  relaxed, conversational, inclusive, friendly  or Slang;  colourful, intimate,  Rhetorical devices;  Questions,  exclamations,  cumulation,  crescendo,  inversion,  bathos,  repetition,  3 cornered phrases. 


Colloquial – with occasional formal words:  iridescent, fugitive, defiance, seamless,

First Person — intimate use of personal pronoun “I” enables reader to witness the changes in self.

Changing Tense — the change from past to present to future tense signifies the passing of time and the changes in self.


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