In the Park – Gwen Harwood – Analysis

In the Park

She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date.
Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.
A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt.
Someone she loved once passes by –– too late

to feign indifference to the casual nod.
“How nice,” et cetera. “Time holds great surprises.”
From his neat head unquestionably rises
a small balloon … ”but for the grace of God.…”

They stand awhile in flickering light, rehearsing
the children’s names and birthdays. “It’s so sweet
to hear the chatter, watch them grow and thrive,”
she says to his departing smile. Then nursing
the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
To the wind she says, “They are eating me alive.”

Gwen Harwood (1920 – 1995)
From Poems 1963

Gwen Harwood was an Australian poet and librettist, creating text for musical score. Harwood is regarded as one of Australia’s finest poets. And the above is a poem she is often identified with concerning motherhood.

The title In the Park brings immediate association to any park experience in the mind of the reader with the suggestion that something is going to happen.

S1 … The first three lines define the situation. A bedraggled poorly dressed mother coping with three young children two of which are pulling at her dated skirt. And I guess many seeking peace and quiet from the park would hurry their step as they walked by. But the next line is the key to the occurrence in the park. Someone she once knew under completely different circumstances confronts her painful situation. And this someone is a special person from the past, a lover. And I think many would assume a man but equally it could have been a girlfriend. But she is caught by surprise and can’t feign indifference to the previous relationship. And the break is appropriate as we flow into the section stanza.

S2 … And this lover from the past shows politeness and he says it all ‘Time holds great surprises’.  And there is immense relief that he had avoided being associated with such a life – ‘but for the grace of God‘. He recovers from such emotional thought himself to spend time in conversation pleasantries that flow into the third stanza.

S3 … He takes an interest in the children, their names, and birthdays. The mother then completely denies her situation and contradicts her dire adjustment to motherhood saying a little sarcastically ‘It’s so sweet to hear the chatter, watch them grow and thrive’ as the fellow departs. Contradicting the glory of motherhood and the expectation once held by her and the expectation of society at that time in the role of the mother in family life.

What is interesting is that later in life she penned a different text to give a balance.

A later text …

She sits in the park, wishing she’d ever written
about that dowdy housewife and her brood.
Better, The Memoirs of a Mad Sex Kitten,
or a high-minded Ode to Motherhood
in common metre with a grand doxology.
“They have eaten me alive.” Did she write that?
The sonnet nestles in a new anthology
safe in its basket as a favoured cat.

She sits a while in flickering light rehearsing
the family’s birthdays. “Stop, you bloody fool!”
A young house-father with a pram is cursing
a child whose pushed another in the pool.
She helps him calm them. “Eating you alive?
Look at me. I’ve lived through it. You’ll survive.”

Written in 1992
from The Present Tense (1995)

Two wonderful Petrarchan Sonnets. I think the first eight lines in the above, before the twist have a subtle swipe at the establishment of the day at the time she wrote ‘In the Park’. That sonnet is now safe and valued, perhaps much more than at the time it was written.

The male role in supporting children in family upbringing has changed markedly over the years eating away at the traditional stereotype of motherhood.

Gwen Harwood on Wikipedia – Gwen Harwood – Wikipedia

Moon – Janette Pieloor – Analysis


My mother comes to me
with a smile and an egg in her hand;
places it in my palm, shows me how
to crack its orange shell, unfold
its rubbery overcoat, reveal
a tiny soft ball we name Moon.

In a soft voice, just for me,
my Mother explains how Moon
and I will always be
part of each other, in a shared journey
to womanhood: a rhythm
Moon controls.

Janette Pieloor
from Then and Now’

The poem is all about communication between mother and daughter. It is centred on one object ‘the moon’ which has significant personal meaning and obviously it centres on motherhood and the shared journey of life through on-going birth.

The first stanza gives instruction on how to crack an egg. I’ve forgotten how I learnt to crack an egg on the side of a cup and open up the shell to pour it into a container without breaking the yoke. I can imagine mother and daughter together in the kitchen and the spontaneous thought on the naming of the yoke as moon.

And in the second stanza Jeanette’s mother softly takes the opportunity to state that always connection not only the birth link and physical DNA connection but you get a reinforcement of the latent mother-daughter bond – ‘always be part of each other’.  It is one of those wonderful moments in life when each are fully receptive to one another and her mother shares on a very personal one to one basis – ‘just for me (her)’.

The moon is often seen as a symbol for mother and in this peom a reference to control; life and the on-going future of humanity in her hands.

I think we all can find a moment where an object, or perhaps a few words, have indelible significance from our childhood experience in communing with our parents on an intimate level.

And as would be expected the then becomes more precious with the differential from the now as we cherish memories from the past with age.

Janette gave me permission to share this poem on this Site. She is in our U3A Poetry Appreciation Group. The poem comes from her latest book recently launched in Canberra.


Extra-terrestrial Report – Michael Thwaites

Extra-terrestrial Report

Arrived at the heavenly mansions, the blessed Saint
(female on earth) was welcomed by St Peter
enquiring whom she most desired to meet.
Mother Mary? Positively no problem;
Let me conduct you. Presently, bathed in bliss,
they sat together, in light and joy and fun.
The Saint was charmed. Mother, how can it be –
you so divine, yet still so down-to-earth?
I don’t forget; and here I have my Son –
As a sword pierced my soul, he from the Cross
gave me in tender care to his dear friend,
my Son, my Son.
Yet there, as you have read,
he learned obedience by the things he suffered:
So did we all…
The Saint took courage, asked,
diffidently bold, Those pictures we so loved –
the Babe and you adoring: did we catch
ever a trace of not-quite-perfect joy?
Mother Mary twinkled – I was young:
I’d really wanted a girl.

Michael Thwaites

A novel theme for a poem and of course there are many departed souls where it would be entertaining to have a make-belief conversation – to really find out from the horse’s mouth so to speak the truth of the matter on a personal level. It is very appropriate that the conversation is female to female.

The thing is we are often conditioned to look at people in certain ways. This poem is made by the interesting twist of looking at the traditional mother-child Christ image in a more down to earth light. And let’s face it Mary was an earthly mother and I’m sure she had a few difficult times in the mothering of Jesus! But was he perfect in his response to his childhood mothering?

And perhaps Mary really did want a girl. And did Jesus really understand what it was like to be female? Perhaps JC the one male that truly understood the female! And what if a girl-Christ had happened – now that would be an interesting concept to explore!

Michael Thwaites (30 May 1915 – 1 November 2005) was an Australian academic, poet, and intelligence officer.

Michael Thwaites on Wikipedia

Morning Song – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Sylvia Plath (Feb 1961)

S1 – The first line of a poem is very important and this first start line is such a wonderful definitive statement on the start of life, that of the birth of a baby, and indeed relevant to life in general. ‘Fat’ and ‘Gold’ appropriate for fat signifies health in a baby as weight is so important for increase is eagerly sought by the mother. Gold signifies purity.

S2 – Voices echo at the birth usually a common joy resonates A museum signifies history and those of the old generation. Drafty (= draughty) generates an uncomfortable feeling and the ‘nakedness’ of the baby in this new environment increases the concern. The audience is a blank entity as far as the baby is concerned. The baby has no awareness of how he or she fits into the world – she is very much a new exhibit with everyone watching intently.

S3 – This is an interesting image expression to show the independence that exists between mother and child. A cloud trying to catch an image of itself as the wind quickly dissipates any such attempt.

S4/S5 – The mother is in constant awareness of the sound of the baby at sleep – akin to the sound of the sea in her ear. She wakes to listen for re-assurance. And it only takes one cry for an immediate response. ‘Stumble’ might indicate that the mother is tired from getting up to tend the needs of the baby or from keeping herself awake in her attentive concern.

S6 – I like the personification of the window square as it takes colour in a white frame and as it swallows the stars as dawn dissolves the night. The handful of notes belong to the baby, perhaps the starting voice of that independence referenced in the third stanza. Balloons of course are colourful and have happy child associations – and the healthy sounds of the baby are truly a bright ‘morning song’ to the mother.

Footnote – Cats do have clean mouths – due in part to the fact that the saliva in a feline’s mouth destroys germs and keeps the mouth clean. This is more powerful in cats than it is in humans and dogs, probably because cats use their mouths to clean themselves so often.

Here is a link to a YouTube reading of this poem by Sylvia Plath