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The Violets by Gwen Harwood Analysis – Summary Sheet

Textual analysis of Harwood's "The Violets".

This Summary Sheet for The Violets by Gwen Harwood provides a base for your own notes.

The Violets
Subject Matter:
The subject is a past childhood memory linked to a present adult reflection through the motif of a violet. The poem is set in Harwood’s childhood home, and as a result it is most likely predominantly autobiographical.
Key Quotes
Techniques and Impact on Reader
“Frail melancholy flowers among/Ashes and loam.”Transience of childhood, innocence and life. Ash as a symbol of death and fragility, loam as a juxtaposing symbol of life and growth.
“Ambiguous light. Ambiguous sky/towards nightfall waking”Transience, movement between adulthood (present) and childhood (past). Epistrophe to highlight this. Enjambment of stanza to show the movement between the two.
“Where’s morning gone?”Rhetorical question, direct speech, questioning the passage of time.
“the thing I could not grasp or name”Monosyllabic to show the simplicity of childhood and thus ignorance, also the inpermeability of life.
“Years cannot move/nor death’s disorientating scale/distort those lamplit presences”The powers of memory in salvation from the transience – are our memories all that truly matter? Use of light as a motif for growth and enlightenment.
Themes:Harwood’s message: philosophy, moral, premise, motif, argument or insightWhat does Harwood teach us?Existential questioning of life, childhood and memory. It shows the passage from innocence to enlightenment through the sensory imagery of the violets and the motif of light to show enlightenment and growth of the persona. The importance of memories is highlighted in the poem due to their retained power of rejuvenation and reflection.
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?The poem uses frequent enjambment in order to continue the train-of-thought style of the piece, which waxes lyrical in a slow pace, showing the growth and movement of the persona’s journey through the indentation. This enjambment also allows Harwood’s existential questioning to work as the whole piece flows without interruption, allowing the reader to follow this and thus transfer the philosophical questioning to their own lives. Fleeting moments of rhyme interrupt this in order to “jolt” the reader from one state to another, intentionally grating in contrast to the smoothness of the rest of the piece. A key feature of Harwood’s poetry is her focus on the philosophical and rejuvenating powers of nature in a Romantic style. As a post-modern author, this makes her work unique and adds to its textual integrity.
Critics’ Commentary: What have others said about this poem: style and content?“The enemy is, of course, time”, “Violets… link past and present” (Hoddinott, 1991)

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