To Be or Not to be, a Sonnet?

Cannibalistic children, Mad Sex-Kittens, and an Ode to motherhood.

Gwen Harwood, an author of over 420 poems, presents these ideas through two sonnets, In the Park and Later Texts I. Both poems allude to the negative side of being a mother, having kids and the not-so-happy side of love or romance.

Now, this repeated theme is unusually inconsistent with her lifestyle based on what has been written about her. Being a mother herself, loving children everyday, being married to a loving husband, etcetera, etcetera, directly contradicts the themes presented in the poems. However, Later Texts I shows some development of thought or change in understanding between the 1960s and 1995.

In the Park, written in the 1960’s, insinuates an interpretation of regret. Having kids with the wrong person. Wishing for something that could’ve been, but didn’t become. Someone she loved once passes by- too late to feign indifference to that casual nod. Forgetting and remembering too late, a life lived in the past. The lady sitting in the park, surrounded by her children (assumedly hers), left to converse with someone once so familiar, about kids belonging to another. Heartbreak and regret on repeat. “It’s so sweet to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,” she says to his departing smile. It’s almost too sad to talk about. To finish her poem with “They have eaten me alive,” only highlights the concept of the draining effects of having kids. The responsibility and obligation to care for and look after kids regardless of regret can only build upon a mother’s stress. For example, Gwen Harwood’s description of motherhood … Rehearsing names and birthdays…. almost makes being a mother, an unwanted chore. The idea of ‘motherhood’ presented in this poem is shown to remove a woman’s identity by dictating her lifestyle. Clothes are out of date… which only highlights that motherhood leaves no room for one to improve upon ones self. The use of enjambment in this poem helps to continue the main idea through the stanzas keeping a continuous link between each set. These ideas about the detrimental side of being a mother evolve between the 1960s and 1995.

Later Texts I was written in 1995 and shows a link between the past poem (In the Park) and the present. Later Texts I suggests thinking back upon events of the past, the reoccurring feelings of regret, envy and obligation but a different emotion is suggested in this poem compared to In the Park, which would be acceptance. This poem alludes to the previous poem, (In the Park), through the repetition of phrases such as She sits in the park…. or “Eating you alive?” which can add emphasis to the title “Later Texts I” as the poem itself references one from the past. Compared to In the Park, Later Texts I suggests a change in societal expectations as the poem, evolving from In the Park, changes from the suggestion of a stay home mother to a house husband rather than housewife. In this poem, (compared to the previous, when the mother was struggling with her kids and the individual that walked up to her walks away and leaves her), the father is struggling with the kids by Cursing a child who’s pushed another in the pool. when the (presumed) mother sees this, instead of walking away, as what was done in the poem In the Park, she goes up to him and Helps him calm them then she states “Eating you alive?”…. “I’ve lived through it. You’ll survive.” Acceptance. The metaphor The sonnet nestles in a new anthology safe in its basket as a favoured cat, emphasises the allusion of In the Park by suggesting a ‘new’ story with previous lessons that were learnt being nurtured in the back of ones mind. Wishing she’d never… emphasises regret of decisions made and followed through in the past. In this case the emphasis is placed on the repeated phrase of “They have eaten me alive” as though, from the point of view from the mother, it’s something she regrets thinking about. Later Texts I is a good example of how, with time circumstances can change and your views upon life can evolve from one thing to the next.

With Gwen Harwood’s poems in mind, I went ahead and wrote my own poem titled Fatherhood. I tried to mirror her theme by changing it from the struggles of motherhood to the struggles of being a single father. I tried alluding to her poems through the concluding line Stay alive. It follows the structure of a Petrarchan sonnet.

“Fatherhood”

To work all day and cry all through the night,

For a father, whose effort will not cease,

A life so stressful; Only gift a crease.

Though, through his children, a smile was a light.

A single tear, never a welcome sight,

To fix with a kiss and some elbow grease.

Waiting for a wife, good enough to lease.

A bit of patience and a fervid might,

To endure through a consequential day.

A father with no time to build his life,

For his children, his only wish; survive.

A child who will beg, “Please, please… If I may.”

Live without a mother; without a wife,

Broken hearted. How can one stay alive?

 

Gwen Harwood writes many poems following similar themes based around family. The two poems referenced in this blog are only a sample of her works.

Hope you enjoyed the read.

K-D.H.

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