Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Gwen Harwood

Australia has more than its fair share of terrific poets and I think I've been wrong to mention only Les Murray (great though he is). Gwen Harwood, who died in 1995, is another favourite of mine and, as I have been thinking lately of my oldest dearest friend from school, who died too young, leaving a six-year-old son behind her, this poem, which Harwood wrote in memory of a close friend of hers, seems especially moving.

Driving Home
To the memory of Vera Cottew

Stones, I think. They rise, crying.
Plover. One cloudy afternoon,
looking for mushrooms, we discovered
a plover's nest. "See how these eggs
marry colours of earth and stone."

Homeward in your old Baby Austin;
a mottled sky. You talked of Ruskin
finding in clouds a deep, calm presence
"which must be sought ere it is seen
and loved ere it is understood."

Passing a shabby country town you said,
"I love these lonely places
waiting for someone to be born
who'll make them great - but then they'll lose
their fields and plovers' eggs and mushrooms"

Miles. Years. This later landscape streaming
through earlier eyesight. You remain
somewhere in the confused arcades
of memory and longing, talking
of light and colour, bird and stone,

"St Mark's porches so full of doves" -
(Ruskin again) - "that living plume
and marble foliage seemed to mingle."
Come from the shades to comfort me!
You do, as I switch on the headlights,

though not as I expect. As often
in life you charmed me with surprises,
you draw out from my memory bank
a Brisbane City Hall recital:
an earnest pianist playing Bach.

The silvertails are bored. You nudge me,
flick your eyes upward: on the cornice
running right round the hall, a rat
has found himself without an exit.
Head after head begins to turn

and follow his demented circuit
round the ornamental ledge. It seems
he has to run when he hears music.
Between one item and another
he stops to rest and preen his whiskers.

Nobody listens to a note.
But oh, the applause! The pianist looks
bemused. We dry our tears of laughter.
Slowly, alert for dazzled creatures
on the dusty road, I reach my gate.

Presence not understood, but sought
and loved, remain with me tonight.


  1. very nice - my favourite part is:

    Passing a shabby country town you said,
    "I love these lonely places
    waiting for someone to be born
    who'll make them great

  2. I'm really quite stunned by that. Beautiful and moving and - though it may seem strange - with imagery I can almost taste.

  3. Beautiful, it reminds me of my favourite Anne Sexton poem

    By the first of August
    the invisible beetles began
    to snore and the grass was
    as tough as hemp and was
    no color--no more than
    the sand was a color and
    we had worn our bare feet
    bare since the twentieth
    of June and there were times
    we forgot to wind up your
    alarm clock and some nights
    we took our gin warm and neat
    from old jelly glasses while
    the sun blew out of sight
    like a red picture hat and
    one day I tied my hair back
    with a ribbon and you said
    that I looked almost like
    a puritan lady and what
    I remember best is that
    the door to your room was
    the door to mine.

  4. Worm - I agree, and I also like 'confused arcades of memory'
    Gaw - She is really good
    Nurse - beautiful, last three lines especially, made me cry

  5. Thank you for that post, which makes me want to go hug my own best friend. I'm sorry for your loss, and especially for her son's.I think one of the things poetry does best is make us appreciate what we have.

    Speaking of appreciation, thank you so much for mentioning the Rain:A Dust Bowl Story website. It is exciting to me to think of having readers in a magical place like Australia! And actually, your topography is probably closer to mine than most places in the U.S. You and your followers are most welcome to visit the site.