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Mother Who Gave Me Life - Gwen Harwood

poem analysis
by Aaron Dewhurst on 21 May 2013

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Transcript of Mother Who Gave Me Life - Gwen Harwood

Mother Who Gave Me Life
Gwen Harwood Mother who gave me life
I think of women bearing
women. Forgive me the wisdom
I would not learn from you.

It is not for my children I walk
on earth in the light of the living.
It is for you, for the wild
daughters becoming women, anguish of seasons burning
backward in time to those other
bodies, your mother, and hers
and beyond, speech growing stranger

on thresholds of ice, rock, fire
bones changing, heads inclining
to monkey bosom, lemur breast,
guileless milk of the word. I prayed you would live to see
Halley’s Comet a second time.
The Sister said, When she died
she was folding a little towel

You left the world so, having lived
nearly thirty thousand days:
a fabric of marvels folded
down to a little space. At our last meeting I closed
the ward door of heavy glass
between us, and saw your face
crumple, fine threadbare linen

worn, still good to the last,
then somehow, smooth to a smile
so I should not see your tears.
Anguish: remembered hours: a lamp on embroidered linen,
my supper set out, your voice
calling me in as darkness
falls on my father’s house. apostrophe - speaker addresses her mother
through a tone of respect past tense verb denotes selflessness first person pronoun and reflectiveverb
highlights a point of realisation in the speaker present participle has connotations on the burden
and strains associated with carrying, delivering and
rearing children thus the tone of respect is continued repetition of common plural noun women demonstrates the
speaker viewing her mother as representative of all women abstract noun uses the diction and feeling
of a prayer as captured through apostrophe style high modality illustrates the speaker's youthful
refusal/inability to appreciate her mother's
maternal knowledge and insight second person pronoun continue apostrophe
style and adds to the elegy form of the poem typical notion of mothers living for their child
is debunked as the speaker realises that she l
"walks on earth" because of her mother alliteration and metaphor of the "light of the living"
has positive connotations and indicates that the
speaker is now appreciative of her mother's gift of life caesura denotes cumulative listing which
demonstrates the universality of the
female experience pre-modifier and enjambment highlights
the 'taming' of women that occurs as they
grow older under the guidance of their mothers lexical chain of females throughout the poem:
mother, women, daughters indicating the subject lack of full-stop at the end of stanza two
allows the nature of being a woman traverse
from one stanza to the next; from present to past abstract noun with connotations of:
pain, suffering, torment noun introduces temporal notion present participle (violent? destructive?) united through alliteration and enjambment with second line to show shift in time cumulative listing of motherly connections caesura marks the shift as the role as mother
bearing child becomes stronger than the need
communicate as represented through symbol of "speech cumultive listing of the elements denotes
the process of devolution to explore maternal
relationships throughout history present participles indicate constant state
of change/flux. Yet motherly instincts are
maintained throughout time lexical chain of parts of human body:
bones, heads, bosom, breast pre-modifier indicates purity and sincere noun milk as a symbol of passing on life and
nutrients between mother and child - nullifying
and preceding the act of communication "the word"
as it is more instinctual return to first person and past tense religious diction as
we shift back to the contemporary world and the speaker's
reflections about her own mother and their relationship direct allusion to famous celestial body that is seen from Earth every 76/75 years. Last seen in 1986, 1910 prior to that, and 2061 next. serves as a symbol of the recurring
and cyclic nature of life - including motherhood shift to third person pronoun "she" creates an
impersonal tone and emphasises the emptiness
felt by the speaker in the absence of her mother removed perspective as the speaker
recounts speech from "the sister"
(notice her lack of identity but gender fabric imagery serves as a metaphor of the 'fabric of life'
and captures the concept of motherhood and duty - it
symbolises the mother's preoccupation with domestic
chores throughout her life and the necessity for neatness pre-modifier "little" parallels the reduction of
the mother's life to nothing but death second person pronoun returns to personal
and apostrophe style phraseology exaggerates time alive to perpetuate
tone of awe in relation to her mother. Equates to
about 82 years making her life span and accompl-
ishments be more significant recurring motif of fabric serves as a connection
of all of life's experiences and is condensed into
a frail, tiny, seemingly insignificant space pre-modifier denotes a sense
of finality and closure symbol of their closing relationship and
the adjective "heavy" implies the difficulty
associated with this closure: painful memory. preposition suggests a form of barrier? and yet a transparent barrier between them? Tone of guilt? visual imagery of anguish emphasised
through onomatopoeia of crumple pre-modifiers denote the treasured nature of this clothing (as the extended metaphor of fabric is further developed) which is loved, soft but also fragile much like the mother cliche denotes the treasured nature of her mother alliterative sibilance connects the shock of the mother composing herself with the image of a smile. Contrast between crumple and smooth to show the pain an happiness of the relationship smile symbolises the stoicism and selflessness of the mother - her strength and fortitude. She is willing to sacrifice her own feelings for the sake of her daughter cyclic structure - poem returns to the emotive abstract
noun - poses the question if this is how the speaker/poet feels reminiscent/nostalgic tone - are they opportunities and
moment lost? Colon emphasises the finality common nouns serves as a symbol of comfort -
light, love, guidance, support. Gentleness, peace,
homeliness, filial warmth pre-modifier illustrates the intricate details
of her memories. The linen serves as a symbol of
the highly valued fabric - strong etched in her life second person and symbol of voice as guidance for the daugher irony of the first line as the mother who gave
the speaker life is currently at her point of death abstract noun of darkness shows uncertainty, threat, danger present participle as a form of guidance, help for the speaker from her mother possessive ownership in final line of the father and the common noun of house; where the mother owned wisdom earlier in the poem, the speaker's father owns the literal world. frictive alliteration in final line creates an ominous, threatening tone form: elegy
a poem of mourning, presented in respectful and formal tone
the speaker addresses her dead/dying mother
she writes in appreciation of the many qualities that she recognises
in her mother
also functions as a commemorative piece that deals with the qualities
of wisdom and stoicism that women have demonstrated throughout
time and the innate connection that all women have
mood is serious and melancholic
rhythm slow © Aaron Dewhurst
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