Essay: the Violets by Harwood

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  • Subject area(s): English literature essays
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  • Published on: January 13, 2020
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  • the Violets by Harwood
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Harwood interweaves past and present by highlighting the painful inevitability of time passing reconciled through the warmth of childhood memories whilst encapsulating the universal values of human experience that add to the integral timelessness of her poetry. The poet establishes a continuity between the past and the present in The Violets and At Mornington through exploring the consoling influences of childhood upon adult development. In The Violets, Harwood affirms adult perspectives through a reflection on a nostalgic memory creating a sense of self-awareness. Similarly, in At Mornington Harwood explores the reflective journey from innocence to self-knowledge whilst Harwood probing fundamental concerns of human existence relating to life and death.

Harwood generates a vivid and descriptive childhood experience in which past and present are interwoven; triggered unintentionally through the violets. The Violets elucidates a crucial moment of psychological development in the persona’s life; her first experience with the loss of time. Through juxtaposition of, ‘dusk, and cold’ with ‘hot afternoon’ Harwood establishes the chasm between the persona’s current setting and the indented past. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the settings elucidates the growth and development derived from her childhood in Mitchelton, symbolised by the blooming ‘spring violets’ contrasted with “ashes and loam” and ‘frail melancholy flowers’ representing the persona’s loss of innocence. In the line “the thing I could not grasp or name”, the poet shows the simplistic and ignorant nature of the persona’s childhood. By doing so, Harwood explores the impermeability of life through the undiscerning nature of the child. In The Violets, lines based in the present have four beats, “frail melancholy flowers among”, while most of the past only have three, “to innocent sleep”. As a result, the past is conveyed as relatively simpler, advocating a child-like sensibility. Thus, through the different ages of violets coupled with the persona’s inability to rationalize the loss of time and lyrical structure of the poem Harwood highlights a significant incident of psychological development. The slow lyrical pace of the poem compelled me to apply the philosophical questioning of the poem to my own life which posed the question, if our memories are truly all that matters?

Harwood creates didactic poetry that examines primarily the progression of the human psyche into a mind capable of reasoning and understanding their environment, namely the power and nature of time over the mortality of humankind. The biblical allusion, “as a child, I could walk on water” highlights the superhuman capabilities the persona believes to possess as a result of childish innocence. The repetition of “the next wave” accentuates the naïve belief of the persona. The line, “airy defiance of nature”, refers to the aforementioned naïve beliefs and indicates that the persona is now aware of her fallibility as a loss of innocence in the journey to maturation is evident. At Mornington conveys Harwood’s strife to reconcile the finality of death with the fleeting nature of life, confronting the reader with the ultimate paradox of transience and finality; life and death. The continuous motif of water acts as a conduit to recall the past, rejuvenating ones present with the arrival of replenishing memories. In the concluding lines, “the peace of this day will shine… bear me away for ever”, Harwood uses the future tense to imply the cleansing nature of death which returns one to a state of innocence. Even still the romantic power of water is not diminished as it is linked to such a return “face of the waters/that bear me away…”. Ultimately the acceptance of death is shown through the tense shift, from past to future to present. Through the unity of ideas between poems and exploring the universal values of the human condition; life and death, Harwood’s poetry embodies textual integrity.

The moral conveyed in The Violets, is that guidance for the present can often arise from searching through one’s ‘days of yore’. “The Violets” is emblematic of Harwood’s work as it explores the ability of memories to revitalize a period of transition in which the persona searches for guidance. The use of simile, ‘striped like ice-cream’ effectively alludes to images of childhood, symbolizing a period of transition, filled with filial love unmistakable in the term of endearment “you goose”. This reflection soothes the persona’s current period of adversity. The recurring motif of the violet bridges the past and present experiences of loss and consolation. The poem’s concluding line, “the faint scent of violets drifts in the air” employs natural imagery, conveying a new found sense of awareness that the memories of her parents’ love transcends the power of death and time. Additionally, “years cannot move” also suggests the idea that in sorrowful times “lamplit presences” may dawn palpable solace to individuals. Ergo, Harwood blends a poignant childhood experience with a persona’s present point of grief to accentuate the capability of memories to provide comfort in the thralls of grief.

In At Mornington Harwood establishes 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 poet establishes life and death as one large continuum. The personification of grass, “The quick of autumn grasses”, highlights an experience where the persona can see what has been and what is yet to come and reflect upon the two amidst the brevity of life. Harwood’s poetry repeatedly asserts the value of friendships and durable human relationships as defenses against the destructive nature of time. The poet employs irony to express the strength of friendship that, “…among the graves, [the persona] think[s] of death no more”. The indentation of the lines, “and stayed for a whole day/ talking, and drinking the water”, signifies that these lines are part of a dream. However, the motif of water recurring in past memories is present in a dream sequence. This suggests, resembling The Violets, although not necessarily part of real life, in times of hardships fabricated images can resemble real life events and therefore provide consolation. From the contemplation of mortality emerges a serenity and acceptance inspired by unifying the inescapability of death with an appreciation of memory and friendship.
The sentiment of the memories in tandem with Harwood’s ability to blur the line between certainty and ambiguity engage the persona in a new and harmonized perception of the present. Hence creating a sense of united self that resonates with the audience, transcending the context of her poetry and therefore providing its ongoing endurance.

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