Seeking Inspiration: Gwen Harwood

I take inspiration for my writing from the works of many different people. I have hit a wall in my writing lately and have been reading widely to try and spur myself on. As I was rifling though my hundreds-upon-hundreds of books, I came across a book of poetry that I had to read for high school literature. My Literature teacher, Mrs Fletcher, was the type of teacher who could inspire a passion for almost any book for almost any student. Before I had her as a teacher, I had no time for poetry. Through her I can now appreciate the subtlties in poetry.

But I digress. The book I stumbled upon was a collection of poetry by Australian Gwen Harwood. At first I didn't like her poetry - she seemed to whine a lot about her kids - and my Literature teacher struggled to make me understand the beauty behind the words. The thing you need to know about Gwen Harwood is that she really struggled to have her poetry published under the name of a woman. She had to take on a pseudonym. She seemed like such a pleasant, well mannered house-wife. Until she got her revenge. She sent a pair sonnets to The Bulletin (I think?) under the guise of Walter Lehmann. They were published without the editors realising that she was giving them the old 'up yours'. See if you can detect what might just be a teensie bit rude about these sonnets:

Eloisa to Abelard
Solace and hope depart. Gods finger traces
on fields of frozen darkness: You shall find
loss, absence, nothing. Walking on the wind
Our lord speaks to a crowd of foolish faces,
no face that is not mine, while filtering through
gaps, honeycombs of memory you seem
but the faint ghost of a remembered dream.
Unveiled by pain, I bleed. My wound is you.
Lost in the well of space, my spirit hears
Lucis creator optime The choir
entreats God, out of tune. I join my voice
to theirs. Nightfalls immense. I taste my tears.
I reap the harvest of my own desire.
No heart escapes the torment of its choice.

Abelard to Eloisa
Far above memorys landscape let the fears
unlatched from thundering valleys of your mind
carry their lightning. Stare the sun up. Find
kinetic heat to scorch your mist of tears.
All that vision limned by night appears
loose in dismembering air: think yourself blind.
Louder than death in headlines the unkind
elements hawk my passion: stop your ears.
Deny me now. Be Doubting Thomas. Thrust
into my side the finger of your grief.
Tell me I am an apparition frayed
out of the tattered winding-sheet of lust.
Recall no ghost of love. Let no belief
summon me, fleshed and bleeding, from the shade.

(Source:, retrieved 07.09.2011)
Since finding this nugget of information about Gwen Harwood as a person, I re-read her poetry with a keener eye. I was able to pick up on so much more in her works, and I now love the stories she weaves. I will frequently be in an unpleasant situation, and have an apt line or two of Harwood's poetry pop into my head. Above and beyond all others, my favourite is about cat fights that women can have with each other. I think that all women can relate to the situation. It is called 'Chance Meeting'.

"no one who knows what friendship is
chooses and picks the virtuous;
we love where we must love; so when
we showed ourselves without disguise
friendship itself had chosen us.
I could have hidden from you then
all you reproach me with. You suffer
that knowledge as I suffer still
the self that made my tongue my own
to speak the love I still must offer
whether you wish me well or ill.
You drop me. I walk on alone."
Excerpt from ‘Chance Meeting’, by Gwen Harwood


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