The poetry of Gwen Harwood #5

Poem: Suburban Sonnet by Australian poet Gwen Harwood

I found this poem to be most unsatisfactory at first. Technically, it is called a sonnet but it is a poorly written one when I compare it to most of Harwood’s technically beautiful poems. While it does have a regular rhyming scheme like many other sonnets (abab cdcd efg efg) it is not strictly in iambic pentameter throughout. (To be fair, even the great GM Hopkins broke this “rule” on many occasions.)

I am particularly concerned about the last line. The stressed syllables are not iambic like the rest of the poem, and this has the effect of jarring on the reader. I can’t help but wonder if this was done deliberately by the poet in order to highlight the shattered dreams of the subject.

The poem is about a young mother who practices her piano playing while two toddlers play and fight around her feet. This could well have been a reflection on the poet’s own unrealised ambitions to play professionally. Her young family have stolen her dreams and she now wallows in a suburban nightmare of crying children, pots boiling over, washing dishes and thinking only of how to make ends meet by reading articles like Tasty dishes from stale bread. The irony of the symbolic dead mouse only reflects her own musical goals which are effectively like the corpse of the mouse.


Harwood, Gwen, 2001, Selected Poems. Penguin, Camberwell.


8 Responses to “The poetry of Gwen Harwood #5”

  1. Pat says:

    What a silly way of looking at poetry.

  2. Trevor says:

    Hi there Pat,

    Thanks for visiting my web site, but I don’t understand what you mean by your comment. Why is it a “silly way of looking at poetry” ? Please elaborate on your statement – then we can at least debate the issues.

    I look forward to your response.

  3. Alex says:

    Hi…i was just wondering what you were referring to when you said you were bothered by lines 13, 14 and 16. As far as i can see, line 16 does not exist. Where is this mythical line 16?

    Thanks 🙂

  4. Trevor says:

    Hi Alex,


    Not sure what happened there. I must have written that line late one night when I wasn’t fully awake – or alert. Thanks for pointing out my error. I have now corrected it in the post above.

  5. Brad says:

    I’m in Year 12 and studying poetry,

    When you say that “Technically, it is called a sonnet but it is a poorly written one” that is the point of Harwoods poetry, she is remarkably playful with her poems and is able to structure and revolutionize sonnets and other verses, for example sea anemones follows no particular sonnet rhyme pattern, insead it creates its own… therefore breaking the boundaries of typical poetry; Harwood was way ahead of her time

  6. Michaela says:

    i have to do this poem at uni, and i have no idea what type of sonnet to call it. any ideas?

  7. Emily says:

    I agree with Brad, Harwood was breaking the boundaries of the sonnet structure therefore creating its own effect and meaning to the poem. I don’t understand why you are so critical and harsh commenting on Hardwood’s poem as “unsatisfactory” and “poorly written.” Harwood has her own creative literary style and I like to see you do better. (Note: the moderator has removed one offensive word from this comment, plus edited some spelling mistakes.)