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At Mornington by Gwen Harwood Analysis – Summary Sheet

Analysis of Harwood's "At Mornington."

This Summary Sheet for At Mornington by Gwen Harwood provides a base for your own notes.

At Mornington
Subject Matter:
This piece is a philosophical and academic reflection on the nature of being, life and death.
Key QuotesTechniques and Impact on Reader
“Rolled/like a doll among rattling shells”Loss of power, overcome by the superiority of nature. Onomatopoeia creates auditory imagery synecdoche of the sea.
“As a child I could walk on water-/ the next wave, the next wave-“Superhuman capabilities of innocence, biblical allusion. Repetition highlight the naivety of belief, aposiopesis to show the interrupted and ultimately futile nature of this enterprise.
“On what flood are they borne/these memories of early childhood/iridescent, fugitive”Continues motif of water, juxtaposition of splendour and hidden, secretive nature of memories.
“With their cadence of trees/marble and granite parting/the quick of autumn grasses”The break in the natural world by something unnatural is shown as bad through the link to death. Life and death as one long continuum (“cadence”). The grasses refers to the time in life which the persona is experiencing, where she can see what has been and what is yet to come and reflect upon the two.
“in airy defiance of nature/a parable of myself” Refers to opening in which she though she could cheat nature.
“And stayed for a whole day/talking, and drinking the water”The indentation refers to the fact that this is a dream and thus not necessarily part of real life, yet the replenishing power of water (a metaphor for the memories of childhood?) remains.
“we have one day, only one/but more than enough to refresh us” Inclusive pronouns indicates a strong bond and the repetition of “one” highlights the importance of this to the persona. The transience of time is shown through the “only”.
“the peace of this day will shine/like light on the face of the waters/that bear me away for ever.”The future tense shows the cleansing nature of death, in that it returns one to a state of innocence (see: Father and Child). The Romantic power of water is not diminished even here as it is linked to such a return. The acceptance of death is show through the tense shift from past to future to present through the piece and in this final stanza.
Themes:Harwood’s message: philosophy, moral, premise, motif, argument or insightWhat does Harwood teach us?The role of middle age as a place for reflection and contemplation of both the childhood that was and the death that is to come. The transience of life (as with the pitcher of water) and the importance of embracing nature (“fine pumpkins growing on a trellis”) in order to accept the “waters that bear me away for ever”.
Distinctive Qualities / Textual Integrity of Poem: What aspect/s leave a lasting impression on the responder?What is the most notable aspect of this poem?

How is this poem reflective of Harwood’s poetry in general?

There is no rhyme scheme in this piece, which shows the train-of-thought nature of the piece as a reflective journey for the persona. The use of an indented dream passage keeps the reader aware of the constructed nature of the piece and the fallibility of the persona, which is distinctly postmodern, despite the Romantic tone which pervades this, as all Harwood’s writing. The motif of the water is indicative of this, as well as the symbol of the pumpkins as rejuvenated
Critics’ Commentary: What have others said about this poem: style and content?“Her poetry repeatedly asserts the value of friendship and durable human relationships as defences against… the destructive nature of time” (Huddinott and Kratzmann, 2003)


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