Single mothers, and gender inequality and what not.

“Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature and poetry.”
Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel


Usually, I would not be one to call myself “weak-minded”, that’s just not who I am. However, poetry, and to an extent literature, is not inspirational to me. I find the whole analysis thing a load of nonsense to be completely honest. But, in this circumstance, as I’m being forced to be “influenced”, I guess Gwen Harwood did create some powerful poetry. At least on the ideas of single mothers, and gender inequality and what not. (Just like to point out I said powerful, not interesting.)


The highlight for me, at least throughout Harwood’s poetry, is the blatant ideology that women are often left alone with their children while the men are free to wander off and hold no responsibilities over the children themselves. Frankly, due to certain personal experiences, I agree with Harwood here and can relate almost directly, or at least as directly as a 17 year old English boy who spends the majority of his time playing XBOX can. Though, I do find it very odd relating to a woman who is speaking of unhappy single mothers,  especially seeing as she herself is happily married with 4 children. Strange huh. Bloody poets.


A few wonderful things which Harwood uses throughout her poems are a bucket-load of enjambment, biblical references scattered in here and there, and some very powerful symbolism. Using dead mice to represent the mother’s role in a child’s life? Yeah, crazy stuff.

This mouse idea, shows how the mother comes across a sprung mouse trap and must comfort her children on the idea of death. It’s ironic, as the sprung trap, at least to me, represents the birth of her children and the mouse inside is obviously her. Essentially she’s being killed off by her children as she slowly fades away while giving her last breath to the things that are killing her. Wow. I could be a poet myself I reckon.


If one was to do a full comparison of two of Harwood’s poems, you would more than likely choose to compare how the two poems focus on a single mother who has a negative mindset towards her demonic children and how they have “eaten her alive”. Yeah, chances are with Harwood this will be the main theme within said poems. Harwood obviously loves the idea of a strong woman being ruined by children and that if the same was expected of male parents that the whole scenario would be a whole new ball game. Quotes such as “two children whine and bicker”, “they have eaten me alive” and “two children…scream and fight”, all highlight this clear viewpoint Harwood takes. So, if comparing Harwood poems is of any interest to you, be that genuine or like my own which is forced upon you by your English literature teacher, picking the quotes that would link back to this common theme would be your first step.


The quote, “two children whine and bicker” is very comical in my opinion, as it feels as though Harwood is belittling the arguments of the youngsters and making it seem as though the children are ruining her life without even having a legitimate reason. Bickering to me appears as a very childish and irritating thing to do, with the irritating aspect of it being representative of how the children have become just an irritant to her life. She writes as though they are little more than a regret to her.


Also Harwood uses the quote “out of date” to describe the mother “In the Park” whereas the male character introduced is described as having a “neat head” which demonstrates Harwood’s clear differing opinion between males and females in regard to parenthood. Women are trapped and have no times for their selves, whereas men are able to keep on top of how they look and walk away from childcare. Deep stuff, right?


The two poems which I would compare, “In the park” and “Suburban Sonnet”, both share a very distinct poetic pattern, the first half of the poem explains the hardships which the mother faces and how difficult her children make her life (“In the Park” even slightly insinuates one of the children is a bit of a simpleton but I wouldn’t recommend you write about that in an essay) and then the second half turns into a highly metaphorical and symbolic representation of the children and the burden in which they are on the mother.


“Suburban Sonnet” poses the idea of abandonment by the mother for her own musical passion as she can no longer take the time out to practice and rehearse her instrument. She talks fondly of the time where she played for Rubenstein and her clear reminiscence of this time indicates how she longs to be back there, before the time of her children. The fact she had to give up music shows how she has to dedicate her time to caring for her children and has no time for anything else. I’m telling you, this woman secretly hates her children.

Similar to this time theme I’m rolling with, “In the Park” also mentions that Harwood must “rehearse” facts about her children, they are not something which she wishes to learn and know, rather she must rehearse, repeating the same information over and over in an attempt to make sure it gets told correctly. This fact alone emphasises how she feels towards her children as, if it was something which she enjoyed, she would know the dates off by heart, not needing to rehearse them and practice the “birthdays” and “names” of her ‘loved’ children. Again, definitely some mother children issues going on here.


Another task I was assigned to do, which, honestly, was far more enjoyable than analysing poems, was writing my own poem taking influence from Harwood’s pieces. I used the poem ‘In the Park” to form my own alternate poem which focused on the views that a man may have looking in on a woman who has had children and the clear impact it has had on her life. I took direct influence from Harwood’s “In the Park” in certain lines of my poem, as I used direct quotations and incorporated them into my own work.

The poem which I created is called “Mum”, and looks at the difference in how a woman is after she has children and the effect it has on how a man could see his ex-partner after the event of childbirth.






He walks through his past. She wears the same clothes.

Life ending children, locked in their bicker,

aimlessly drawing symbols of Wicca.

“Mum” looks away, contemplating her woes.


Oh for the Grace of God I’m glad I left

before they had performed such a treason,

their own mother, not herself as even

before their birth, they’d committed this theft.


Try to avoid her, can’t face what they’ve done.

I, without intent, catch her attention,

Sold me stories which fail my retention

Rid of her lover, replaced me with “son”

I left her, my significant other.

That’s her no more, you’d know her as “Mother”.


I have crafted this analysis, even with my “weak-mind”, and frankly I think it went okay. Guess that’s a positive of poetry, or English in general for that matter, even if you have absolutely no interest in the writing you are studying, you can still manage to crawl your way through. Sometimes, you can even pass a test, or assignment, without even reading the book, just so long as you can pick up a few basic ideologies of the author or poet. Pick up those ideas and just run with it. Ah, the beauty of English.


by (the awesome) Joe Glover



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