What stylistic features are used in Gwen Harwood's "Father and Child"? How can these improve students' writing?

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One stylistic feature in the poem is the use of personification in the second stanza. The boy who narrates the poem sneaks out at "Daybreak" and says that his father is "robbed of power / by sleep." Sleep is here personified as the robber, and the personification of sleep suggests that the boy's father is a victim. Personification is a useful technique for a student to use to improve the standard of their own writing. By giving human characteristics to something that is not human, a writer can emphasize the power of that something. Indeed, by personifying sleep in this poem, the writer implies that sleep has a will of its own, and when something has a will of its own, it is of course more powerful and more dangerous.

Another stylistic feature used in this poem, which is a good feature for a student to use to improve their writing, is the evocation of different senses. In the opening stanza, for example, the boy describes "Daylight" and "the sun." In the third stanza, the boy says that he is standing "in urine-scented hay," and in the final stanza the boy says that he "fired" his gun once more, to put the barn owl out of its misery. The evocation of different senses (sight, smell, and sound) helps the readers to imagine the scene more vividly and immerse themselves in it more completely.

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Gwen Harwood's poem "Father and Child" includes two poems—"Barn Owl" and "Nightfall"—separated by many years. In the first poem, the speaker is young and inexperienced. She seeks out the barn owl to kill it, feeling at first powerful and almost god-like. Once she commits the act, she discovers she was not prepared for its outcome, the "obscene / bundle" into which the bird collapses. Her father advises her to complete the act, as it is the most humane thing to do now, and he then serves as a literal shoulder to cry on as the speaker processes this experience. In "Nightfall," the speaker's father is 80 years old and apparently near death. At this point, the speaker sees innocence in her father and wishes she had the power over life and death she saw herself as having that time in her early life when she shot the owl.

In the poems, Harwood makes use of first-person voice, anecdote, and imagery, along with some figurative language. Both poems are told in the first person voice by the speaker, who is the "child" of the title. This allows the reader to directly access the speaker's feelings before, during, and after the events of "Barn Owl," and of course to understand the speaker's complex feelings toward her father's mortality in "Nightfall." "Barn Owl" makes use of anecdote, as the story of the speaker killing the owl to prove her own power over the world around her serves as an example of a lesson learned. The anecdote also gives a context that allows the reader to understand the relationship between the father and the daughter.

Both poems include extensive imagery. "Barn Owl" sees the speaker describing the owl itself and the scene of the owl's gruesome death in vivid detail. "Nightfall," on the other hand, makes greater use of figurative language. Though the speaker implies that the father and daughter are literally on a walk, the speaker also often refers to more abstract concepts through her description. For example, in the second stanza, the speaker writes,

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.
In this section of the poem, the speaker refers to the father's (and her own) mortality by saying there is "no more to taste" of life. They have "pick[ed] [their] last / fruits." This is a figurative way of saying that life is nearing a close. The final lines, though, return to the literal walk. The figurative language is more suited to the latter poem, "Nightfall," as even the title is metaphorical (or at least more symbolic) than purely literal. The title refers to the close of life, as nightfall signals the close of the day. The speaker grapples with metaphysical concepts in this poem, so figurative language is better suited to her purposes.

Any time students analyze a piece of literature and think about how and why the author constructed the piece in a particular way, and what effects that construction has on a reader, they are thinking about writing as a craft. This allows students to be metacognitive about their own writing. They will become more aware about the effects of their choices of words, their phrasing, and their use of sensory detail or figurative language. They will think about and practice the connections between form and content.

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