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Home of Mercy. Gwen Harwood remains an unquestionably devout member of her faith, and yet there is a strange ambivalence to the Church within selected poems of hers. For those familiar with

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Introduction

Home of Mercy By two and two the ruined girls are walking at the neat margin of the convent grass into the chapel, counted as they pass by an old nun who silences their talking. They smooth with roughened hands the clumsy dress that hides their ripening bodies. Memories burn like incense as towards plaster saints they turn faces of mischievous children in distress. They kneel: time for the spirit to begin with prayer its sad recourse to dream and flight from their intolerable weekday rigour. Each morning they will launder, for their sin, sheets soiled by other bodies, and at night angels will wrestle them with brutish vigour. Home of Mercy By two and two the ruined girls are walking at the neat margin of the convent grass into the chapel, counted as they pass by an old nun who silences their talking. They smooth with roughened hands the clumsy dress that hides their ripening bodies. Memories burn like incense as towards plaster saints they turn faces of mischievous children in distress. They kneel: time for the spirit to begin with prayer its sad recourse to dream and flight from their intolerable weekday rigour. Each morning they will launder, for their sin, sheets soiled by other bodies, and at night angels will wrestle them with brutish vigour. ...read more.

Middle

Without looked at the other lines, perhaps they are memories of the circumstances from which landed them in this very place. Looking at the following lines however, I got the impression that perhaps they were remembering their entry into the Church (remembering that more people in these days would have belonged to the Church), and their transgressions cause them pain, especially being within the chapel where the pervasive religious atmosphere would have exacerbated any guilty feelings they may harbour. This is supported in part by the fact that the 'Memories burn... as towards plaster saints they turn," seeing the saints of their religion could invoke those memories which caused them to be in the chapel in the first place. Memory is described as what makes us human (an idea also explored by Heaney) and the fact that the girls undergo a kind of ritualistic and religious suffering for their memory implies a kind of penance for their humanity. Indeed, it would seem that their whole existence at the convent is penance for their crime of fornication, something I myself blanch at but in the days when the Church had much more influence, something people would have accepted without much thought. Another curious and deliberate use of phrases by Harwood is evident in the use of the "plaster saints," which is phrase that means something that perhaps looks genuine, but despite its decoration is really false. ...read more.

Conclusion

"End what you have begun." I fired. The blank eyes shone once into mine and slept. I leaned my head upon my father's arm and wept, owl-blind in early sun for what I had begun. II Nightfall Forty years, lived or dreamed: what memories pack them home. Now the season that seemed incredible is come. Father and child, we stand in time's long-promised land. Since there's no more to taste ripeness is plainly all. Father, we pick our last fruits of the temporal. Eighty years old, you take this late walk for my sake. Who can be what you were? Link your dry hand in mine, my stick-thin comforter. Far distant suburbs shine with great simplicities. Birds crowd in flowering trees, sunset exalts its known symbols of transience. Your passionate face is grown to ancient innocence. Let us walk this hour as if death had no power. or were no more than sleep. Things truly named can never vanish from earth. You keep a child's delight for ever in birds, flowers, shivery-grass - I name them as we pass. "Be your tears wet?" You speak as if air touched a string near-breaking point. Your cheek brushes on mine. Old king your marvellous journey's done. Your night and day are one as you find with your white stick the path on which you turn home with the child once quick to mischief, grown to learn what sorrows, in the end, no words, no tears can mend. ...read more.

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