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'The Violets' by Gwen Harwood
Transcript of 'The Violets' by Gwen Harwood
Frail melancholy flowers among
Ashes and loam. The melting west
Is striped like ice-cream. While I try
Whistling a trill, close by his nest
Our blackbird frets and strops his beak
Indifferent to Scarlatti’s song.
Ambiguous light. Ambiguous sky
Declarative Statement - certainty. Noun & Adj - Time of year/day
Adjectives and personification denote weakness
Metaphor and simile create familiar visual imagery which also appeals to gustatory and childhood. Verb melting - transition
1st person pronoun - to what extent is this Harwood?
Onomato-poeia. Trill = rapid flutter of the tongue against the palate. Appealing to auditory sense
Verbs denote discomfort. Personification of blackbird?
Allusion to ‘Le Violette’ by Alessandro Scarlatti (17/18 C) Italian Baroque composer of operas & cantatas:
You are standing
Among the leaves,
And you scold
That are too ambitious.
Anaphora and parallel structure - drawing on visual sense. Notions of ambivalence - indifferent, ambiguous
Verb - religious imagery?
Amidst symbols of death - ashes and loam. Fragility of the flowers
Enjambment to 2nd stanza Everything in life is subject to mutability?
Towards nightfall waking from the fearful
Half-sleep of a hot afternoon
At our first house, in Mitchelton,
I ran to find my mother, calling
For breakfast. Laughing, “It will soon
Be night, you goose,” her long hair falling
down to her waist, she dried my tearful
face as I sobbed, “Where’s morning gone?”
Shift in mood and time- fearful, half-asleep, hot, discomfort, alarmed. Diurnal symbolism.
Use of details “first house” and proper noun Mitchelton - authenticates the recollection of persona. Seemingly autobiographical
Past tense verb - motion one of vulner-ability
Present participle - one of comfort and warmth
Direct dialogue and colloquial language to create authentic, intimate tone and highlight naivety of the persona as a child
Adjective tearful coupled with verb sobbed to reiterate vulnerable state of persona
Confusion of the persona - symbolic of lost childhood? Innocence? Opportunities?
Contrast of emotions: joy and woe
and carried me downstairs to see
spring violets in their loamy bed.
Hungry and cross, I would not hold
Their sweetness, or be comforted,
even when my father, whistling, came
from work, but used my tears to scold
the thing I could not grasp or name
that, when I slept, had stolen from me
Verb symbolises protection/power
Diurnal imagery - new life and hope
Contrast with earlier image of ashes and loam - now providing life and sustenance.
Adjectives denote selfishness, ignorance of the child
Abstract noun showing restorative powers of the violets and later understanding
Onomatopoeia aurally recalling the whistling of the persona from stanza one. Parallel worlds of the past and present
Ambiguous tone capturing the frustration of the child persona at inability to understand and the loss that has taken place. Ironic commentary on later persona?
Emotive past tense verb denoting loss and corruption
Monosyllabic language capturing child’s mentality / perspective
Recurring use of enjambment to denote fluidity of memories and reality, transient nature of life, fleeting nature of memories.
those hours of unreturning light.
Into my father’s house we went
Young parents and their restless child,
To light the lamp and the wood stove
While dusk surrendered pink and white
To blurring darkness. Reconciled,
I took my supper and was sent
To innocent sleep.
Years cannot move
Adjective unreturning denoting transient nature of light, life, memories, experiences, loss. Abstract concepts.
Recurring motif of light, shifts this time to an artificial form through common nouns ‘lamp’ and noun phrase ‘wood stove’
Diurnal noun returns us to the time of day at the beginning of the poem.
Soft, aesthetic adjectives calm the mood and create visual imagery
Verb blurring denotes confusion of child. Abstract noun of darkness - obscurity, loss
Adjective reminds audience of the naivety of the child persona and ease with which problems are resolved. Voice of adult persona reflecting on child’s perspective.
Religious diction of reconciled.
High modality shows how fixed the concept of time passing truly is
nor death’s disorienting scale
distort those lamplit presences:
a child with milk and story-book;
my father, bending to inhale
the gathered flowers, with tenderness
stroking my mother’s goldbrown hair.
Stone-curlews call from Kedron Brook.
Faint scent of violets drift in air.
Personification of death and the skewed view of life it may present. Memories are immutable; permanent and always at the discretion of the individual, especially the lamplit ones. Why?
Shift to nostalgic tone - pleasant, simple, child like images: challenges pre-established view of the trauma of childhood. Ambiguous light of the sky has given way to the more steadfast light of lamp
Verb inhale links to final line through olfactory imagery - this time with a positive tone and pleasant recollections
Verbs bending, gathered, stroking at ease with the environment - connection and affinity
Return to olfactory imagery of violet’s scent - which has taken the persona back to what she has lost through time but ca recall through poetic imagination
‘The Violets’ Key Themes
Time and mortality – sets up oppositions then reverses them for an unexpected set of meanings.
Parallel worlds of past and present
Importance of poetic imagination and memories
Everything in life is subject to mutability
Scarlatti’s ‘Le Violettes’
Rendition by Julia Laudano
Rendition by Renata Tebaldi
7. How is the perspective of the child captured in the third stanza?
8. What is the relationship/unity between the first stanza and stanzas three and four?
9. When and why does tense shift in this poem?
10. What does Harwood suggest about memories?
11. What symbolism do the violets possess in this poem?
12. Describe (using quotes) the mood (atmosphere) and tone (poet’s attitude) of this poem.
What is the mood of stanza one and how is this created?
In what ways does Harwood appeal to auditory and visual imagery through her use of language in stanza one? Why?
What is the effect of the word ambiguous?
How does the style and tone of the poem shift in stanza two?
What impressions of the personas in this poem to we gain from the use of direct dialogue?
What symbolism is employed in the second stanza and why?