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Harwood, Gwen,

Harwood is an Australian poet born in Brisbane in 1920.  She claims to have had a happy childhood, strongly maternal. with close relationships with her great grandmother, grandmother, mother, daughter and granddaughter.  Women in her poems are fiercely independent; keen to be wiser, stronger and longer lived.

Gwen Harwood has vivid childhood memories of the depression.  She studied music, became organist of All Saint’s church and composed libretti.  There are many references to music throughout her poetry.

In 1945, Gwen moved to Tasmania eventually settling in Kettering facing Bruny Island. Her first poetry was submitted under male pseudonyms in order to be published


TONE : Varied, ironic, humorous, witty, melancholy, direct pathos, reflective, meditative, pondering.

Power of thought rather than language.

Personal - poems of domestic and family life in the suburbs

Influenced by the personal confessional poetry of Larkin and Lowell. Many religious references - Anglican Hymn Book & Book of Common Prayer

Voice often harsh - critical rather than mellifluous. Generalises, Universalises - people often not named.

LANGUAGE : Sometimes inflated, dramatic, human, colloquial and approachable.  Religious connotations and resonances.  Full of nuances

Images - complex, elaborate, sometimes not allowed to speak for themselves.


Philosophical poems - Harwood does not always show her hand.

Asks the questions but does not provide the answers. Influenced by Wittengstein - “We should love the questions rather than look for the answers”.

Personal family and domestic relationships.

Love, memory and death.


* Personal and domestic life in the suburbs.

* Restrictions of a woman trapped in domesticity. There is conflict between her role as supporting caring wife and nurturing mother, and her own intellectual and spiritual needs.

* Nagging sense of feeling of life wasted - unlived life, unfulfilled. “In the Park”, “Violets”,

* Sense of a divided self - not having achieved potential trapped. ”Alter Ego” “Hospital Evening”

* Appearance and reality. Mocks pomposity and hypocrisy

* Poetry of middle age_ (maturity)

- need to speak out - protest?

- reflective, memories, nostalgia, musings, reveries, the interplay of moments, overlapping past and present. The ability to interweave past and present is Harwood’s most striking feature.

Memory often controls movements and moments and transforms the consciousness of the present.  Memory is unreliable, subjective, fickle, capricious.

Later in life accused herself of a “chronic morbid nostalgia”

- acutely aware of exhaustion, death, negation

- yet positive — struggles to impose a sense of order, purpose, meaning to ordinary events.

Over riding concerns:

Sharing of deeply realised moments of spiritual recognition. Function of poet to give a permanent form to transient human relationships.

Poems trembling on the edge of quiet ecstasy/pain.

Sharing the fragility of such moments; intensifying the pain, ache, the suffering.

Music - a creative form; releases us from ourselves to a more perfect, ordered world.

Other Techniques

1) Recurring images of: light (half-light) darkness, air, water

2) Contrasts: pain and beauty, joy and sorrow, light and dark, sexuality and spirituality.

3) Early poetry influenced by religion, the Bible, Prayer Book but later she suffered an ‘unconversion’ to belief in the world and human love and friendship.

4) A sense of Humour combined with a love of playing with words.

5) Dreams are frequently used to express and reveal the visions and repressed memories.  Poems:  Krote, Glass Jar, Prize-giving

6) Moves from the: concrete to the abstract/philosophical,  particular/singular to the universal.

Students choose from of the following poems on this site.

‘At Mornington’, ‘Prize-Giving’, ‘Father and Child (Parts I & II)’, ‘The Violets’, ‘Mother who gave me Life’.

For a good Biography of Gwen Harwood,   


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