If you’re stuck doing English literature, or equivalent if you live somewhere else then chances are you’ve sat bored as hell trying to figure out where to begin with a poetry comparison or analysis. An incredibly daunting task for such a small section of text, and if you’re like me and see more writing as more quotes, not that I can use those properly anyway, and evidence, than poetry is also difficult for you. So allow me to provide an example of how to begin going about writing yourself an essay. A good place to start is the Australian poet Gwen Harwood, and in particular her sonnets, the two I find easiest are “suburban sonnet” and “in the park” both simple as can be and can easily be brought together under one banner, both with a lot of single mother stuff in them. Now the first thing you need to complete an assessment is the question, and one that’s always present in exams and assessments is the old blah blah values and attitudes construct culture blah blah. Now basically the only important bit is the values and attitudes about culture, which will form the spinal column of your essay. What you’re looking for when you see those words is anything that can construct a Marxist or feminist reading. If you want to be one of those people and do a post-colonial reading, you really don’t need my help. For the purpose of this analysis were going to be looking at how these two poems reference values and attitudes of the time and place it was written, which means how did the author represent their cultures beliefs, not the ideology’s though, that’s a different thing.
So before we begin this paragraph shall cover where to find and extrapolate your evidence, if your writing your essay on this exact poem just scroll down, don’t bother reading, but if you’re looking for information on examples of evidence you may want to read. Let’s start with the sonnet in the park, throughout it Harwood uses a persona of a single mother, who funnily enough is in suburban sonnet, though not the same persona, saying that loses you marks because there’s no proof, but basically she has a hard time being a single mom and her kids are a bit ratbaggy, but good news for us Harwood packed it full of evidence to support a gendered reading and a Marxist reading.. Basically for an essay you should analyse then write, not the other way around, so first let’s get our evidence, first line: She sits in the park. Not much in it for analysis to my untrained eye, but the second half brings us home her clothes are out of date. First point the very conspicuous full stop, end of sentence, Harwood obviously drawing attention to the lack of details for descriptors, if you’re going to talk about personas and characters in a poem then that’s an important thing to mention, next the meaning we can draw from this, her clothing isn’t new, she doesn’t have any money to buy new stuff, good stuff for the first line, basically one can use that to write about how Harwood wanted to draw attention to the socioeconomic situation of women without male figures present. Next on the agenda two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt. Another full stop, they don’t say anything, therefore don’t have voices, they become objects. Whining and bickering, normal stuff eh? WRONG. Harwood is creating a symbol of children, which she references in the last line and we’ll talk about then, but as for analysis this is hard to do without drawing further evidence from other places. A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt now we start to see more of the poverty references, drawing in the dirt, not really something kids with cool monster trucks do, so it’s clearly a reference to them being poor. Another thing to mention, aimless patterns, the kids no Mozart, so if you so desired one could talk about how she constructs the children as inferior, which is a bit of a long shot but I’d pay it. Not much to talk about in the 4th line, except the mention of loved once, the once being important, makes you think that the SI did the dumping. 5th line could further used evidence of Harwood constructing a weak female persona, as she is put in the weak position of nodding first. Now line 6 gets juicy, “How nice” et cetera. “Time holds great surprises.” How nice, a condescending language reference, et cetera, a default conversation, and time holds great surprises, but it’s no great surprise to anyone that this can be used to further reinforce the idea that Harwood is constructing a culture in which the default attitude is to not care about single moms, sound familiar? Now line 7 doesn’t really have much to it, except “neat head” this is a contrast between the lovely female persona and this robot of a male. The 8th line however has within it the inevitable biblical reference, “but for the grace of god” now you can do a lot of things with that, but I personally would talk about how this allusion is a reference to how the bible oppresses both the lower class and women as a whole. They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing now if you’re bad at poetry and counting you wouldn’t have realised that this is a Petrarchan sonnet, with a few discrepancies, and that we’ve made it to the sestet, the home of the Volta, and in this line, They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing we see the beginning of this, a Volta is basically when the poem does a 180 tail whip and turns around, Harwood does this by creating an almost romantic air about it, so of course the male is gonna profess his love and there’s a happy ever after? Were gonna quickly jump a bit and boom line 12 she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing we see that Harwood is not done and Voltas her own Volta, of course this is not a technical phrase, and we discover that there’s no happy end for the persona, now the significance of this is YUGE, we can see that Harwood creates the idea that men are unforgiving and uncaring, and don’t care, which constructs the final block of the male persona character, which we’ll get to in a bit. The youngest child, sits staring at her feet. Line 13s a bit dull, but again more links to the inferiority thing. Now line 14 is where we bring this sucker home to the wind she says, “They have eaten me alive.” Now two important things to talk about, one the reference to children being a burden “they have eaten me alive” they’re killing her, financially mostly, but a little bit literally, but this mostly says to me single mothers can’t be single, “to the wind” that references that she is alone, no friends or family, which can be useful when constructing your paragraphs. Now that you’ve hopefully enjoyed the how to section, here’s the WHAT THE HELL DOES IT ACTUALLY MEAN section.
What does all that stuff mean, well basically that’s the proof for the reading your gonna make, referencing the values and attitudes, the easiest one I think is a gendered reading, because Harwood casts a negative light on the values and attitudes of the male culture she created in this text. So there are three main things that I can easily talk about in the text, the construction of personas, the allusions to both the bible and survivability of single mothers and my favourite symbolism. Now I’m going to construct that essay using these three things as my main body paragraphs, so let’s start with the most abstract, the symbolism, and your evidence starts in line 1, her clothes, these are a symbol of her status, which is pretty low. The second symbol I feel comfortable referencing is the dirt, the dirt again represents a lack of anything else, represents the primal state that she and the child are forced to live in, and finally the flickering light, a universal symbol for romance, this symbol is the most abstract, as it essentially contrasts with the start of the poem, which is heavily unromanticised, and then end which is the same, so this symbol can be seen to represent the past, where she and this male enjoyed a romantic and peaceful relationship. The first two symbol lead the reader to see that the attitude of that culture are unforgiving to single mothers, as she is very poor and struggling, and the second bit as a direct reference to the unforgiving nature of men, thus casting the a negative view on this society.
Second paragraph, I would talk about the use of allusion, this goes in the middle as it’s my weakest point. First off the text makes a biblical allusion, given in the sentence “if but for the grace of god”, basically the holy water of literature, I would use the allusion as a reference to the text the bible and how it’s used to oppress women, and thus Harwood creating a juxtaposition between the culture in the text and the male dominated attitudes and values in the bible. Second allusion id take the time to mention is the uncaring nature of men, done so by the way the male persona reacts to the woman, using the term from “his neat head unquestionability rises” as a method of showing how he thinks of the women, not as a person but as an object, this allusion leads the reader to view the male, who is a representation of males in the culture in which it was written, negatively, and as such also view the patriarchal values and attitudes negatively.
Third paragraph: in the final paragraph one would use the personas, to construct the negative view on male society. One could use the evidence mentioned above to show how the male persona is representative of male society and how the reader is guided to view it as negative, and how the reader is guided to sympathise with the persona of the mother, of course the evidence for these is basically everywhere, hence why it’s the last paragraph you can basically pull out any old quote.
Now of course above I already showed you where to find evidence from the text in the above line so I won’t bore you again, without further ado here’s some more evidence pertaining to sonnet number 2 ‘suburban sonnet’
Now this poem tackles the home life of a single parent, and as such is ripe with evidence to support the same question and reading as the previous sonnets, so let’s start off with a similar paragraph structure
Symbolism: there’s not a whole lot to go on for symbolism for the unpractised eye in this sonnet but there’s a nice pile of symbolism towards the end in the example of the dead mouse, this dead carcass obviously symbolises death. Death is another one of those things that are always good in literature, and in this case she is comparing the trapped mouse to the way the woman feels in this situation, trapped and alone. This can be linked back to the uncaring nature of that culture. That’s about it really for the old symbols
Allusion: now this sonnet practices my favourite kind of allusion, direct allusion! In this sonnet the musician Rubinstein, who, funnily enough is an expert musician, and who yawned at her, of course this backs up the uncaring thing we got going on very nicely. Next allusion is to the socioeconomic state of the household, in the manner of the paper the mouse is wrapped in “tasty dishes from stale bread” not your typical meal, unless you’re a single mother who is having a hard time in a male dominated society which is ruled by an uncaring attitude towards said single mother. Now the next allusion is a little complicated, the fugue, means one of two things, the musical definition, multiple voices slowly joining together, or the mental definition, in which one does something they can’t remember later, now they both can be referenced, the musical one showing that she is alone, with no one to help her, or the mental definition showing how she’s losing the plot, I’d say both if you can’t pick one do both, comparing them and showing how smart you are. Next allusion is “her veins ache” bit tricky, could allude to drug use, or to the previous sonnets “they have eaten me alive” that’ll help out later by the way, and that’s about it for the old allusions, worth a pretty sick paragraph I’d say.
Persona: now not as many personas in this one as in the park, but of course there is one important one that needs to be discussed, with reference of course to in the park, the children! The personas of the children are created to be seen as life stealing and basically too much to handle for one person, multiple times they are referred to as, well, basically inferior to your average kids, this can be related to the lack of father, as the children have no father and who brings the discipline? Daddy-o. The other persona that needs to be assessed is the mother, who is created as a flawed mother with no “zest and love” left, and a possible reliance on drugs, this both compare well with in the park.
That basically concludes what you could put in an essay for just suburban sonnet, now writing about just one of these poems is like writing about one chapter of a novel, short and not likely to unlock your full potential, so one would reference both of them in the text, as they both allude to similar things and have the same personas in them. Also the intertextual references are strong in this one, and can easily be bound into one essay, filling in the gaps of the other, as suburban sonnet lacks symbolism, one could use in the park to shore it up with extra quotes, and what in the park lacks in allusions could be shored up with the suburban sonnets multitudes. And best of all, they both can support the same reading, that of a cruel society with values and attitudes that support only the male agenda, and not that of single mothers, so basically just follow that generic guideline, and your essay should be completed before the heat death of the universe, who knows if you build on this basic C grade skeleton you may get a B.
Now these two poems both use the same structure, that of a Petrarchan sonnet, but with a twist, and as such, to really get ones head into it I have written a poor rendition of these sonnets, focusing on the main issue in my life, not my kids, but my inability to complete a simple game. The reason I chose that topic is because basically the hopelessness of the female persona reminded me strongly of my own hopeless adventures in Infinite Undiscovery…
A simple game, played for fun
But alone in the dark, with success far away:
Two hours progress I am forced to replay,
With every red ring, I come undone.
A bond like that of mother and offspring
One binding eternal, no hope of release,
Trapped in stasis forever, I’ve no hope of peace
But to the faint hope of victory, I cling.
But alas I chip away and away
My labours never recorded
But it is my fate to Survive
To a glory eternal, I return to the fray
To a brave hero, and loot hoarded
But this game, it is eating me alive