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'The Sharpness of Death' Final Copy

Gwen Harwood - poetry analysis
by Aaron Dewhurst on 21 May 2013

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Transcript of 'The Sharpness of Death' Final Copy

Leave me alone. - You will?
That's your way with us women.
You've left my mother so,
desolate in my father's house.
But that's not what I mean.
Suppose we come to terms:
you take one day for each
day that I've wished to die.
Give me more time
that was never long enough.
Look, here's a list of names.
Take these, the world will bless you.
Death, you've become obscene.
Nobody calls you SWEET or EASEFUL now.
You're in the hands of philosophers
who cut themselves, and bleed,
and know that knives are sharp,
but prove with complex logic
there's no such thing as sharpness. Heidegger

Like Wittgenstein, he found much cause to wonder
"that there are things in being".
Searching for roots, he thought all words were names.
Given the German language
and his training as a Jesuit seminarian
he could talk about God's DASEIN,
and in untranslatable reasonings maintain
that the human concept BEING
and the question "What is Being?" are essential:
since man's a language user
he must say things ARE, or cannot speak at all.
He called philosophy,
in his late works, "the enemy of thinking".
Rilke said song was Dasein.
Heidegger left ontology for Hölderlin
and his blessed Grecian world,
"the language in which Being speaks to use".
Untraslatable as ever!
Was it significant nonsense or deep insight
flowed from his pen? He thought
much about dying. No one could die for him.
Poetry led him
close to the Logos. Nothing could be proved,
but much was hinted.
Death, he said, was "the ultimate situation".
I hope he found some light
beyond that field of black everlasting flowers. Nasturtiums

Purest of colours, how they shone
while we talked in your studio.
Light like a noble visitor
stayed with us briefly and moved on.
A schoolgirl bringing flowers, an artist
accepting colour and crazy love,
we stand among the plaster mouldings
of figures from an earlier time.
How would you ever know me now
if I came to your grace and called you,
unless I brought those flowers, those colours,
that ray of light descending through
the room's eccentric fenestration?
Seed of the seed of countless seasons
blossoms to hold the light that's gone. IV

Death, I will tell you now:
my love and I stood still
in the roofless chapel. My
body was full of him, my
tongue sang with his juices, I
grew ripe in his blond light.
If I fall from that time,
then set your teeth in me. Sharpness of Death - Gwen Harwood Wittgenstein (philosopher) argued that the "logical discourse" of the world at large and the prosaic language that is typically used to describe it, has no application to the world that exists beyond mere temporal existence. To search for any real understanding of the nature of life, logic must be replaced with more complex thinking. This is best expressed in the poetic language of imagery, symbolism and metaphor Martin Heidegger (September 26, 1889 – May 26, 1976) was an influential German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of being." His best-known book, 'Being and Time', is considered to be one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century. Heidegger has been influential beyond philosophy, in literature, psychology, and artificial intelligence.
Heidegger claimed that Western philosophy has, since Plato, misunderstood what it means for something "to be", tending to approach this question in terms of a being, rather than asking about being itself. In other words, Heidegger believed all investigations of being have historically focused on particular entities and their properties, or have treated being itself as an entity, or substance, with properties. He placed emphasis on the language of poetry as a means through which the questions of being could be explored. Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (20 March 1770 – 7 June 1843) was a major German lyric poet, commonly associated with the artistic movement known as Romanticism. The poetry of Hölderlin, widely recognized today as one of the highest points of German literature, was little known or understood during his lifetime, and slipped into obscurity shortly after his death; his illness and reclusion made him fade from his contemporaries' consciousness – and, even though selections of his work were published by his friends during his lifetime, it was largely ignored for the rest of the 19th century. the metaphysical study of the nature of being and existence Logos (from Greek logos) is an important term in philosophy, analytical psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "word," "account," or "reason," Dasein is a German word famously used by Martin Heidegger in his magnum opus 'Being and Time'. The word Dasein has been used by several philosophers before Heidegger, with the meaning of human "existence" or "presence". It is derived from da-sein, which literally means being-there/there-being, though Heidegger was adamant that this was an inappropriate translation of Dasein. He argued 'sein' referred to 'being' and 'dasein' referred to human existence. the arrangement of windows in a building connotations of something to fear
as something dangerous, painful imperative/apostrophe - speaker addresses
an absent figure - in this instance Death caesura marks change in tone from imperative/aggressive
to interrogative tone/doubtful, uncertainty second person and condemning tone towards
the subject of the poem. inclusive pronoun accompanying plural noun
women to illustrate a division? men/women? adjective has connotations of intense
loneliness, solitude possessive notion of father, owning the
house establishing gender roles shift in tone/focus - ambiguity of actual subject suggests some kind of deal/
reconciliation be met verb creates speculative tone intimate and reflective tone established
through first person pronouns past tense verb denotes a yearning form: dramatic monologue
Death is told to leave the speaker
alone. The speaker doesn't want
to die. They move through stages
of being:
-dismissive return to imperative to illustrate the desperate
tone of the speaker. Also mimics a plea-like tone brevity of life examined colloquial tone as the speaker is belligerent series of imperatives - commanding death what to do through verbs: look, take adjective is condemning and has negative
connotations. Denotes that Death is ugly, disgusting - a cessation of life allusions to former poets reflections on death:
Keats 'Ode to a Nightingale' - "half in love with easeful death"
considers the Romantic view of death; and Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass'
as he proclaims: "come sweet death. Past centuries that saw Death
as a surrogate 'sleep' as something sweet or easeful. This has been shattered
by a more fundamentalist approach to existence present tense of now reminds reader that
views on death have altered over time suicide imagery used to show how philosophers
have tried to rob the act of death of its naturalness
by rationalising, disecting and explaining it pun on the notion of sharpness - that death has
connotations of pain, danger, yet philosophers
have used their 'sharp minds' to disect death
and yet have no resolution. Criticism of
philosopher's works regarding death, reminiscent
of Donne's metaphysical style. Thus, Death remains an abstract quality,
inadequately defined by philosophers and
unpredictable allusion to hymn 'Te Deum Laudamus' -
'We praise thee, O God' from the Book of Common Prayer speculative verb to indicate the nature of
Heidegger and Wittgenstein's life endeavours prevalence of third person pronouns and
proper nouns prepares for a biographical style after considering philosophical concerns
moves to religious considerations lexical chain of communication terms:
words, names, language reminding the
reader of the importance of how to
convey ideas which was a concern of
both philosophers high modality to demonstrate the importance
of grounding beliefs facts and reality Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926) was a Bohemian–Austrian poet and art critic. He is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language. His haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion with the indefinable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety: themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets. intertextual references showing the split between philosophy and poets as communicators of the state of being exclamation denotes the fact that the only certainty is uncertainty; that there is no real understanding by these concepts nor by their philosophies rhetorical question demonstrates the ambiguity associated with any major philosophy and the need for constant questioning direct allusions to the work of Wittgenstein and their juxtaposition highlights the ambiguity of definitives in such subject matter intertextual reference through direct quote - explores the notion that death is to be embraced and is the penultimate moment of life debunks the death theory through speculative verb "hope" and contrast between the positive of light against foreboding black metaphor of the lack of hope when one rests the point of existence on the moment of death imagery of the flowers conjure up a former time
and place through Romantic-style writing superlative highlights the importance of this
memory through the vivid imagery positive connotations of verb shone
bringing light, insight and happiness past tense as the speaker recollects a poignant memory and reminisces in a nostalgic way about her feelings at that time simile and personification to give the light
a sense of influence and further positive
connotations through pre-modifier "noble" adverb "briefly" and past tense of "moved on"
reminds the reader of the transience of life return to personal account through inclusive pronoun of "we" shift to present tense to illustrate the potency
and strength of the memory rhetorical question as the speaker realises how things
have moved on and changed as we return to present tense common nouns flowers and colours as symbolic of the catalyst for memories recalled recurring motif of light as the speaker feels this is a comfortable, reassuring and pleasant memory repetition of common noun and long, rounded vowels slows the pace and highlights the length of time that has lapsed and the regeneration of life and memories. The pace indicates a quiet
sense of acceptance. aurally aesthetic assonance of "e" mirrors the pleasant experience and unity within the memory seasonal imagery reminds the reader of the
cycles of life and the transience of life, emphasised
through past tense of motif which is now "gone" but
that life is also continuous return to direct address in apostrophe style high modality, direct verb and present tense
create a sense of urgency and emphatic tone prevalence of first person pronouns as the speaker asserts her ownership over her own life. more confident tone than first stanza sexual and sensual sensory imagery through tactile "full", auditory "sand" and visual "ripe" positive connotations through verb "grew" and adjective "ripe" as the motif of light returns speculative tone at the end showing the inconsistency of such memories and epiphanies met with a welcomed acceptance of death through the personifcation and graphic imagery flowers emerge as a symbol of the pleasantness of memories; the vitality of youth with their boldness reflecting the boldness of youth through this memory. the imperious tone in the final stanza is epitomised in
the final two lines as the speaker declares that once memories
are put aside or suspended, death is permitted to enter.
This debunks philosophers' views of death as "the ultimate
situation", but rather postpones death in light of the revel
of experience both past and present and dictates exactly when
and where death can play a part in the experience. We now
have a willing acceptance of death, but on the speakers terms,
as she has become confident in contrast to the deliberation and
uncertainty in the first stanza A note on structure in this poem...

The notion of conflicting views of life, death and existence can be represented through varying structural elements in a poem. Harwood uses four distinct sections in an effort to examine a variety of experiences relating to death. Initially the speaker demonstrates an uncertainty and fear in response to death as it appears to the speaker inevitable. This is highlighted through the language of the stanza but also the dense punctuation such as the stilting use of caesuras (lines 1, 11, 13 and 16) and endstops (lines 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 19). Note how this is less dominant in subsequent stanzas as enjambments dominate the style.

However, memories are important in helping us retain a sense of life's richness and the importance of treasuring such poignant moments. In 'Nasturtiums' Harwood moves to an intimate reminiscent tone as the tense shifts to past. Here, the transience of time is examined in two, long sentences combined through enjambments. The use of punctuation such as question mark reminds us of this transcience, but the gentle acceptance of the speaker is reconciled through the even rhythm and end-stop presents a sense of closure. Finally, in the fourth stanza, the use of the colon in the first line denotes the speaker's found authority and assertiveness. The movement from fear of death to open acceptance as both mysterious and inevitable is encapsulated in the final two lines through the regular rhythm and tone of resignation.

Thus, Harwood's use of structure in 'Sharpness of Death' is a crucial element in developing her ideas regarding death. When combined with her rich descriptions, vivid imagery, auditory techniques and intertextual references, Harwood's ideas of the transience of life, the nature of memories, the fullness of life's experiences and the significance and inevitablity death are successfully examined. matter-of-fact tone epitomises the problems with all such conjecture - it is the experience that will ultimately lead to knowledge and that cannot be theorised about youth and innocence symbolised through the common noun religious undertone (marriage?) through diction of "chapel" and pre-modifier "roofless" suggests exposure; open for scrutiny
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