Symbols in Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day Poem

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“Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day” is a deeply symbolic poem by the renowned Australian poet Gwen Harwood that, on the surface level, tells the story of a mother and heart-broken wife who is beaten down by her life of cleaning and caring for children. Throughout the poem, she is depicted tidying up the house presumably after Christmas day and reflecting upon her life both presently and in earlier years. The story is set in a typical, bleak suburban household and the characters presented consist of a Mother, a child and “the demon lover.” This wonderfully complex and allegorical poem stands as a unique view on the pressures and responsibilities that women are faced with and the toll it takes. Gwen Harwood has cleverly created a subtle yet powerful protest against the stereotypical roles that society places upon women. The poet explores the idea of motherhood and being a housewife in “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day” through the use of strong poetic techniques that stimulate a vivid and lasting impression in the mind of the audience.

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The poetic techniques that Harwood manipulates to achieve this lasting impression include tone and mood. The tone created by “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day” has a great impact upon the audience as it is the key to invoking emotion. Harwood uses these tools to emphasise and better convey her ideas. Although the tone of the poem shifts as we read further, it starts out feeling slightly gloomy. This can be sensed in the first two lines, “Gold, silver, pink and blue, the globes distort her; / framed in the doorway: woman with a broom.” Further into the poem, however, the tone changes to become somewhat detached and reflective. “She stands and stares, as if in recollection, / at her own staring acid-pink reflection. This sets a mundane mood amongst the opening lines of the poem. Harwood begins the poem setting this gloomy and detached tone to contrast against the last six lines of the poem which, resulting from a volta, have a more passionate and angry tone that is used to explore the themes of love, lust and romance. “O where’s the demon lover, the wild boy,” The passionate tone expressed from the first line of the second stanza changes the mood of the sonnet from being mundane to angry. Words like “demon lover” carry biblical connotations, the woman is referring to the father of her children and, although the “demon lover” might have brought her joy at the time, she is now being ‘punished’ for her ‘sins’ through her duties as a mother and wife. The woman is angry because her life has been reduced to something less than she wants. The last line of the poem, “She gathers up a new, dismembered toy,” brings back the sad, detached tone that ultimately solidifies the overall mundane and hopeless mood of the sonnet..

Abiding by the traditional rules of a sonnet, Gwen Harwood has made the poem to be fourteen lines long with roughly ten syllables per line. On the other hand, unalike to the traditional Shakespearean sonnet, “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day” follows an unusual end-of-line rhyme scheme. The first eight lines follow the pattern a,b,b,a,c,d,d,c respectively, whilst the last six lines follow a separate pattern, e,f,g,g,f,e. It isn't hard to notice when looking at the rhyme scheme that there are three distinct sections within the poem. Harwood has purposefully implemented this scheme to link ideas and separate different tones. For example, there is a link between the two “c” rhymes. The first line reads, “lies open: how to keep your husband’s love,” this is paired with the second “c” rhyme, “The simple fact is, she’s too tired to move.” The link between these two lines is not coincidental and implies that the woman is simply “too tired” and emotionally drained to rekindle and keep alight the spark in her marriage. The many different connections that can be made through analysis of the rhyme scheme allow the audience to further explore the ideas brought up by Harwood in “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day.”

The diction used within “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day” is particularly interesting. Throughout the poem, the audience is susceptible to many varying forms of diction. At some points, the word choice is very direct and graphic and is used specifically to aid the creation of an image in the mind of the reader. Words such as “flesh” and “dismembered” fall under this category. Lines nine through twelve all feature quite romantic diction. These words stand out because they, in contrast to other words in the poem, are very exciting and upbeat. The phrase, “…and swore to love her / through hell’s own fires” contains many romantic words that, when strung together, change the entire tone and mood of the sonnet. Additionally, the diction found in the title harbours meaningful connotations whilst giving the audience insight into the poem. The words and phrases “Suburban” and “Boxing Day” that are found in the title of the poem, give the audience some insight into what is going on in the story and where it is taking place. The use of “Sonnet” in the title is rather ironic as a sonnet typically portrays a woman at her best. Through the use of diction and connotations in the title, Harwood challenges and directly contrasts against this traditional meaning as her character is instead tired, dissatisfied and sorrowful. The diction used by Gwen Harwood in her poem “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day” has deliberate effects upon the audience by altering aspects of the sonnet such as the tone and mood, and also by creating visual imagery.

The most potent and prominent techniques that Gwen Harwood uses in her poem, “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day,” are symbolism and imagery. “Framed in the doorway: woman with a broom.” This sentence creates a clear visual image in the mind of the audience has a deeper, symbolic meaning. The woman is expressing that she feels labelled and defined as a sort of “maid” that is always cleaning up the mess and picking up the pieces, not just literally “dismembered toys”, but figurative pieces of the broken family. When realised, these symbolic meanings often startle the audience and have emotional impacts such as this one, which makes us feel sorry for and pity the woman. Harwood intentionally uses the Christmas period, which is a symbol for family and joy, to emphasise and contrast against the harsh reality that the woman feels alone and depressed during this time. This engenders a sense that the woman is detached from her family. The use of a highly relatable Christmas scene, “Wrappings and toys lie scattered round the room,” enables the audience to connect on a deeper level with the poem through visual imagery. The wrappings are portrayed as a symbol of the woman’s hope, which have been torn apart by her family. Harwood’s use of symbolism can be found in the line, “A glossy magazine the children bought her.” The giving of this hollow and impersonal present paints the picture that the woman’s family isn’t extremely grateful towards her and therefore accentuates her feelings of pain and anguish. The action of the child described in the lines, “a child stretches above her / and, laughing, crowns her with a tinsel wreath,” leaves us with the image that the mother is a martyr-like figure. This quote is comparing the woman to Jesus and subtly implies that, whilst she is suffering and in pain, she is still a strong leader and wants the best for her family. The poet closes the sonnet with the line, “She gathers up a new, dismembered toy.” This is highly symbolic as only yesterday these toys were pristine. This is saying that the children have broken their toys, just as they have broken their mother and left her to clean up the mess. The use of symbolism and imagery in Gwen Harwood’s “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day” is essential to delivering emotion and meaning to the audience. Harwood has cleverly used these techniques to have a heavy impact upon the reader.

The poem “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day” by Gwen Harwood takes an uncommon view on motherhood and suburban life that brings light to new thoughts and unique ideas. The story tells of a mother that is tired of her life looking after kids and being a wife. The deeper philosophical meaning of the poem is that the aftermath of joy is always faced. Just like Christmas day ends and the cleaning begins, lust dies and the burden of children remain. Through poetry, Harwood gives voice to our human tendency to not think about the future consequences of our actions and decisions. “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day,” is a brilliant example of how poetic techniques are employed to convey emotion and meaning to an audience.

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