At Mornington

At Mornington  Gwen Harwood #

Sound Effects #


Read the poem aloud. Comment on the Sound Effects,  verbal music. It’s rhyme. Rhythm  and melody. Assonance, alliteration. onomatopoeia. etc. (Blending repetition patterns. slow/fast movement, harsh, discordant, sibilance, sotto, allegro,  Rhapsodic, lyrical, elegiac,  upbeat,  blue, staccato,  dirge, ode,   Melody. tone. mood. atmosphere. voice.

The poem begins softly with an account of anonymous family anecdote telling of her first encounter with the sea.

The Tone is conversational, reflective and  contemplative suggesting the passing of time and gaining of wisdom.  From a concrete experience the poem then becomes philosophical with the waters finally taking her away.

II Subject Matter – Context and Background #

The poem is closely related to experiences with family and friends beginning with a first sighting of the sea and then introspectively musing on water, memory and death. The meeting with her close friend Thomas Riddell at the cemetery where his parents are buried spawns thoughts of their own mortality “autumn grasses”. This rare moment spent together induced reflection about death, memories, the passing of time and the importance of friendship.

The ability to interweave past and present is Harwood’s most striking feature.

At Mornington #

They told me that when I was taken

To the sea’s edge, for the first time,

I leapt from my father’s arms

And was caught by a wave and rolled

Like a doll among rattling shells;

And I seem to remember my father

Fully clothed, still streaming with water

Half comforting, half angry.

And indeed I remember believing

As a child, I could walk on water –

The next wave, the next wave –

It was only a matter of balance.

On what floor are they borne,

These memories of early childhood

Iridescent, fugitive

As light in a sea-wet shell,

While we stand, two friends of middle ages,

By your parents’ grave in silence

Among avenues of the dead

With their cadences of trees,

Marble and granite parting

The quick of autumn grasses.

We have the wholeness of this day

To share as we will between us.

This morning I saw in your garden

Fine pumpkins grown on a trellis

So it seemed that the vines were rising

To flourish the fruits of earth

Above their humble station

In airy defiance of nature

- a parable of myself,

a skinful of elements climbing

from earth to the fastness of light;

now come to that time of life

when our bones begin to wear us,

to settle our flesh in final shape

as the drying face of land

rose out of earth’s seamless waters

I dreamed once, long ago,

That we walked among day-bright flowers

To a bench in the Brisbane gardens

With a pitcher of water between us,

And stayed for a whole day

Talking, and drinking the water.

Then, as night fell, you said

“There is still some water left over.”

We have one day, only one,

But more than enough to refresh us.

At your side among the graves

I think of death no more

Than when, secure in my father’s arms,

I laughed at a hollowed pumpkin

With candle flame for eyesight,

And when I am seized at last

And rolled in one grinding race

Of dreams, pain and memories, love and grief,

From which no hand will save me,

The peace of this day will shine

Like light on the face of the waters

* That bear me away for ever.*

IlI Themes, concerns, issues - values #

Memories triggered by the meeting a childhood friend and the realisation that the persona can transcend death because of memories, love, family and friendship. Love and friendships enshrined in memory will protect the persona against time and mortality.

The persona realises that memories change — “as light in a sea-wet shell”.

At the end of the poem there is an acceptance of death. “*waters that bear me away forever”. * Nature is indomitabe

No change has occurred in the persona’s stubborn and determined nature — “I could walk on water” to “in airy defiance of nature”. However, she now realises that she “no hand Will save her”, but the poem ends in peace and acceptance, as death will be followed by eternity.


Structure: linear, circular, episodic, flash backs,  climactic.     Images: (visual,  auditory, o1factory,  tactile, ,gustatory) figures  of speech:  similes, metaphors, personification, analogy, synecdoche, contrast, antithesis, unity,  irony, Allusions,  etc

In At Mornington elements of the past, present and future are used in images of water — the water of the ocean in childhood, when I believed I could walk on the sea; the water of the dream in which I sat with Thomas Riddell in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens drinking from a pitcher; the water of creation,

*the first source of the flux of life; the water of the infinity of death.”    *Gwen Harwood — Lamplit Presences

The poem contrasts the unthinking impulses of childhood with the reflective appreciation of middle age. Death has been placed in perspective as only one aspect of life and memories and friendship enable people to transcend death. The persona acknowledges the true value of friendship. This poem was dedicated to Thomas Riddell, Gwen Harwood’s life long friend who encouraged her to change from being a recluse and publishing her poetry using pseudonyms to touring the country as a poet and forcing the literary world to acknowledge the true poet.

**Form **— the long stanzas and free verse reflect the passing of time and the flooding memories.

Imagery — images of change — persona as a child, carefree and confident to a middle aged person with an aging body — “when our bones begin to wear us”; the earth’s emergence — “drying face land rose”,  “autumn grasses”.

Images of water:  “sea’s edge,  father..streaming with water,  I could walk on water, flood (of memory), earth’s seamless waters,  pitcher of water, drinking the water,  face of the waters.

Water: the mystery of creation; birth-death-resurrection; purification and redemption; fertility and growth. According to Carl Jung, water is also the commonest symbol for the unconscious.

a. The Sea: the Mother of all Life; spiritual mystery, and infinity;    death and rebirth; timelessness and eternity; the unconscious.

b. Rivers: also death and rebirth (baptism); the flowing of time into eternity; transitional phases of the life cycle;  incarnations of deities.

Parable: the pumpkin’s cycle of life and its defiance of nature make it a parable for the person who believes that she can transcend time and age through friendship and memories of her experiences.

Symbolism — light and water symbolise the continuity of life even after death - renewal. The pitcher of water symbolises the importance of friendship.

*V. LANGUAGE:  * #

*Approach: Subjective/Objective,  Attitude or Tone,  Audience,   Style: diction, word play, puns,  connotative/denotative,   emotive (coloured biased,) /demotive, (technical, dispassionate)  clichés, proverbial, idiomatic, expressive, flat,  Jargon,  euphemisms, pejorative, oxymoron.   Gender biases.  Register:  formal, stiff, dignified  or Colloquial;  relaxed, conversational, inclusive, friendly  or Slang;  colourful, intimate,  Rhetorical devices;  Questions,  exclamations,  cumulation,  crescendo,  inversion,  bathos,  repetition,  3 cornered phrases.  *

 **Colloquial – **with occasional formal words:  iridescent, fugitive, defiance, seamless,

First Person — intimate use of personal pronoun “I” enables reader to witness the changes in self.

Changing Tense — the change from past to present to future tense signifies the passing of time and the changes in self.


This is a deeply pensive an philosophical consideration of life and the human relationship with the natural world. #