What is the poem "The Sea Anemones" by Gwen Harwood about?  I need to be able to explain how the diction, rhyme, and imagery create meaning but I am having trouble pulling the poem apart. I think...

What is the poem "The Sea Anemones" by Gwen Harwood about?


I need to be able to explain how the diction, rhyme, and imagery create meaning but I am having trouble pulling the poem apart. I think that it is about a woman who has lost her baby, or is depressed after childbirth and is thinking about hurting her child. Am I on the right track?

Asked on by smarmy

1 Answer | Add Yours

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Poetry speaks to every individual in a different way: we all bring a wealth of experiences that shape how we see the world. It is impossible, even for the artist who creates a work of art, to control the work's effects once it is "released" to the public. Certainly the poet can strive for a certain kind of response, but still people will continue to debate what a piece of art "means."

I can give you only my perception of the writing, and I will work with the structures you have mentioned, starting first with meaning.

I agree that because of the use of the repeated use of the color "grey," the mood of the poem deals with depression, sadness. The speaker seems to be trying to make sense of something, and "late assessment" indicates to me that it has been a long while in coming.  She speaks of "peace;" perhaps after a long struggle, she is finally working to put things into perspective, to find inner-peace.

She refers to the anemones as red creatures, similar to gouts of blood. "Gouts" reminds me of boldly-colored blobs of paint. If the poem is about Postpartum depression, certainly the birth of a child would explain drops of blood, which might well have caused fear and distress.

The speaker looks to the earth for her answers, but cannot "hear" them. If I were to look for life or death here, I would go with life. The earth does not speak, so perhaps the answer the author seeks is not in the earth.

The brightness of the "seaflowers" contradicts the sadness or pain she is feeling, and the colors seem to break through her distress. "Kneeling on rock: could this mean "praying?" Associations with "cold" regarding the water could refer to death, but it also may refer to emotional detachment, another symptom of PPD. However, as she reaches through the cold water, waiting for her is a "hungering gentleness," similar to her experience of nursing her newborn baby. Here we see something positive!

If this poem is about giving birth, I believe the child is alive and she means it no harm. I think the speaker is simply trying to understand the quagmire of emotions she is trudging through in order to understand who she is and how she feels at this confusing time of life. The grey color of the scenery is strongly contrasted with the blood color of the anemones. Red is also the color of passion and life, so perhaps she is trying to find a way out of the grayness.

'Waking with palm across mouth' confuses me; she is also speaking to "you." But it says nothing about blocking an intake of air. Perhaps it speaks to the nursing action. The word she finds, however, is "ever," which denotes a forward motion for her.

"Why add salt to salt?" I think the speaker wonders to what end she would cry more tears over those already shed.

The anemones shine like drops of blood: like something alive. They move like the wind, like the spirit, where they want to go, but they are NOT flowers, but creatures that need to eat or die.

Here I could see my way to her understanding, through the haze of PPD, that she MUST feed the child so that it will live, and SHE must be there for the child to survive.

I cannot speak to the diction: I noticed there are many words with long vowel sounds,which may add a sense of clarity.

The author writes in free verse: no meter, rhyme or musical pattern.

Her imagery focuses primarily on nature: perhaps to draw a parallel between life in nature, and the nature of life: birth.

I hope this all helps.


We’ve answered 317,907 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question