The subject is a speaker so sensible of lonesomeness that she regresses to the past, remembering her childhood memories which are cast as unambiguous ‘lamplit presences of memory.’
In the past, a hungry and cross child sobs ‘where’s morning gone’ and is grieved at the loss of unreturning light, while in the future the now adult speaker ponders where her whole life has gone.
Emotional qualities are shared between the past and present: a sense of loss, a seeking of comfort, and a source of comfort.
Tones of: despair, grieving, loss, pain, lyric meditation, frailty, melancholy nostalgia.
.Contrasting tones of joy and woe.
*Contrasts: steadfast lamplit presences / ambiguous light & blurring darkness.
: ‘spring violets...loamy bed’/ ‘frail melancholy flowers.. .ashes’.
: past / present.
*Repetition - sustained images of violets which appear in both the past and present, stirring forth the speaker’s memories.
*Figurative language — simile: sunset images, melting west.
* Imagery - rich in poetic images induced by the speaker’s drifting of the mind into memory and reflection.
Figurative language - simile: melting west striped like ice—cream, sunset images symbolic of the approach of death.
Vernacular language is integrated into the poem: ‘It will soon be night, you goose’.
*Language creates a rhythmic drifting sense - ‘stone— curlews call from Kedron Brook. Faint scent of violets drifts in air’, echoing images of the speaker’s mind drifting into reflection.
• The memory process being so strong so as to superimpose images of the past on to the present, thus filling and colouring a faded and melancholy world. Valued memories are unambiguous and so neither ‘years nor death’s disorienting scale’ can distort them.
•The moving through thought & imagination to abstract reality. Memories are seen to maintain a cohesiveness & continuity of experience: images and song-sounding of repeated motifs continually bind the past and present. .It is valued memories which remain & transcend the ambiguous experiences of our existence within the world.
• Memory is an agent of a recovered sense of life.
The Violets successfully exemplifies the way daydream memories allow an introspective meditation on the voyage of memory to discovery. The poem brilliantly fuses the past and the present, and in doing so, suggests that in memories and reflection are intimations of immortality. Ultimately, this meditative work of poetry insists that the operation of memory is a consolation rich and glowing.
Excerpts from an essay on The Violets
The first person, ‘I’, in ‘The Violets, is used to give voice to the child. This evokes our emotion towards the ‘I’ as we can identify and engage by replacing this with our self. This strong sense of feeling, relationship and engagement to the poem emphasis’s our own emotions. ‘I kneel to pick frail melancholy flowers among ashes and loam,’ puts us in the same, dull, lifeless position as the narrator. We have this strong sense of empathy with and compassion towards her.
Gwen Harwood’s poetry significantly deals with issues surrounding the mind, for example, fear and anxiety of the young, looked at from the perspective of middle age. In ‘The Violets,’ the child is saddened having lost most of the day’s sunlight, placing emphasis on a probable fear of the dark. ‘As I sobbed, where’s morning gone?’ implies the child’s confusion as to the time, acknowledging the child’s feeling of being cheated having slept throughout the entire day.
The past in ‘The Violets,’ is valued, however the plaintive tone otherwise states that it is not something that can be relived. The child in ‘The Violets,’ is ultimately depressed that the daylight she lost will not come back.
As well memory is a significant motif throughout Harwood’s poetry. Memory can be subjective, fickle and unreliable as demonstrated in ‘The Violets’. The memory process is so powerful as to superimpose images of the past on to the present colouring a faded and melancholy world. By stating that “years cannot move nor death’s distorting scale distort those lamplit presences”, Harwood suggests that the memory of Violets as a symbol of faithfulness, constancy and modesty can constantly fulfil.
The language techniques used by Harwood to convey her messages strongly emphasize the distinctive themes of her poems. In ‘The Violets,’ powerful emotive language such as ‘scold’ and ‘stolen,’ are used to enhance the child’s depressed and tearful state of having the day light taken away from her. A sense of mystery is established through the repetition of ‘Ambiguous,’ in ‘The Violets,’ ‘Ambiguous light, ambiguous sky.’
Another striking feature of Harwood’s normally formal language is the intrusion of the colloquial “you goose”. Integral as the language is to addressing a young child, its use in formal poetry is unexpected.
As we have seen Harwood is a personal and subjective poet who depicts characters and situations clearly and accurately. Her life as a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother has enabled her to reflect on life in a detached yet engaged manner revealing the fears, anxieties, frailties, complexities and ambiguities of youth in their formative and developing years. Her poems reveal the traumas of young people coming to terms with their inner lives and developing methods of coping with reality.
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