The uniqueness of Hardwood’s poetry stems from its ability to invoke different interpretations when confronted with different time and place. In particular, the poems “The Glass Jar” and “Father and Child” are immersed with a range of allusive symbolic, literary, poetic devices which positions readers to question the underlying concerns of the poem in a dynamic manner. Ultimately, critical interpretation of the mentioned poem is refined and shaped by the context and values that embodies the time and place of the responder.
Both The Glass Jar and Father and Child examine the transitions of life and loss of innocence through the depiction of a child’s journey. In The Glass Jar, Harwood begins with a narration of a child who attempts to “soak a glass jar in the reeling sun”. The childish nature of the first stanza creates a light-hearted and evocative atmosphere that familiarises the responders to their own childhood. The notion of innocence is establish on multiple levels. The integration of biblical connotations such as “disciples” has been used to foreground a religious reading.
The “light” and “sun” can be perceived as a godly entity in which the child so faithfully trusts “to bless” and to “exorcize”. As the narration progresses, the child is seen to be suffering nightmares of “pincer and claws” and “vampire fang”. These satanic imageries allow Harwood to further develop the religious context of the poem. The child wakes and “recalled his jar of light” but his “hope fell headlong from its eagle height” when he noticed the light was no longer there.
Harwood has used the anticlimax as a vehicle to position the responder to question fundamentals and reliability of faith itself and challenge the responders’ preconceived values of religion. As in Father and Child, Harwood explores the transitions of life in a cruel and provocative way. In order to defy her father’s perception of an “angel-mild”, the child decides to go out and shoot a barn owl. Contrary to her original belief, the child discovered that death is not “clean and final”.
Harwood uses exaggerative and attentive descriptions of the owl’s struggle – “…bundle of stuff that dropped, and dribbled through the loose straw…”- to reflect the brutal realism of human evil and its irrationalities. The psychoanalytical approach to the poem is foreground through Harwood’s implicit use of symbolism. The owl from an English cultural context can symbolise both knowledge and death which precisely illuminates the psychological transformation the child has undergone. When noticed by her father, the child was told to “end what you have begun”.
On the most literal level, the child may have simply learnt the cruelty of death. However, the metaphoric implication of the poem also offers the responder insight to the human psyche. Through the child’s irrational hatred Harwood subverts the responders’ universal perception of childhood innocence, the juxtaposition of “a horny fiend” and “angel-mild” has conveyed the falsities of the universal idea that children are pure and innocent. Harwood’s postmodern ideologies are too evident in The Glass Jar.
The child ran to his parents’ room as he felt betrayed by the missing light. His sadness is compounded when he saw “his comforter lay in his rival’s fast embrace”. From a biographical reading of the poem, that is Harwood’s interest in Freudian philosophies, we can clearly note the Freudian implications in The Glass Jar. Freud theorised that all children have subconscious sexual attraction with their parent of the opposite sex. The word “rival” in this context carries implications of the oedipal complex proposed in Freud’s philosophies.
The strong use of point of view has also allowed Harwood to examine and depict the psychosexual development the child is undergoing. For example, the child’s misconception of sexual intercourse is conveyed through the phrase “gross violence” and it is through this unintended discovery the child’s innocence would be shattered. Upon confusing and fear, the child ran back to sleep. The musical imageries that followed in his dream – “malignant ballet” – indicates that the child has been permanently traumatised by the by the event which will usurp his once pure and faithful mind.
The personification of the sun’s “wink and laugh” almost in a mockery tone ridicules the innocent humour which exist in our childhood, and positions the readers to acknowledge how it comes to seem absurd as age begins to manifest itself. The transience of time and use of perspective are important aspects in Hardwood’s poetry and this has been explored through the dichotomic structure poem Father and Child. The metaphoric title “Nightfall” informs readers that in contrast to the first half of the poem, the second half deals with the approach of death and reversal of the father-daughter relationship.
Harwood challenges the power of death through noting the significance of memories – “things truly named can never vanish from earth” – asserting that despite the persona must face her ”stick thin comforter” s imminent death, her memories of him will last for eternity. The ambiguous and allusive nature of Harwood’s poem often opens up to different deconstructionist interpretations. The intertextual reference in Father and Child to King Lear “be your tears wet” may provoke readers to respond from a feminist approach.
The stereotypical role of female and male is subverted through contrasting the power of the father and child throughout their journey. The sense of masculinity of the fatherly role has been adhered to in “Barn Owl” but subverted in “Nightfall”. The daughter, like the play “King Lear” became bearer of wisdom who tended the decaying body and “ancient innocence” of her aging father. Harwood successfully captured and recreated the dynamic relationship and notion of masculinity made by Shakespeare to suits the ideologies of modern and postmodern feminist readers.
In the final stanza, Harwood asserts the most important results of the cycle of life – “grown to learn what sorrows, in the end, no words, no tears can mend”. The powerfully emotive yet inconclusive closing allows readers to determine their own learning through in the poetic journey, be it the notion of loss, recreation or family relationships. In conclusion, it is through Harwood’s allusive and ambiguous use of language, poetic and musical devices which successfully allow the poems to illustrate unique meanings and values when confronted with the different time and place that surrounds different readers.