The poetry of Gwen Harwood #6

Poem: Prize-Giving by Australian poet Gwen Harwood

            I thoroughly enjoyed reading and rereading this poem. Professor Eisenbart appears in a number of other poems, and along with Professor Krote they are a vehicle for Harwood to bring her musical interests into her poetry. From a technical point of view this is another example of Harwood’s fine skill as a poet. It is in iambic pentameter throughout with a very regular rhyming pattern (abcbca).

            The poem is filled with sexual tension, just like the room is filled with teenage girls: ‘He shook/ indifferently a host of virgin hands.’ It is not until one girl in particular attracts his attention, and as she rises to receive her prize, and to play, he is aroused by this ‘girl with titian hair.’ ‘He took/ her hand, and felt its voltage fling his hold/ from his calm age and power.’

            At first he had refused to attend the prize-giving event. He reluctantly agrees to come and finds the whole affair rather tedious until this girl grabs his attention. The ‘titian hair’ or red hair is symbolic of this girl’s attraction to this old fuddy-duddy academic. Titian is the name given to red-haired people after the Venetian painter Titian who mostly painted his portraits depicting red-haired subjects. One of his more famous paintings is of the Biblical Salome, regarded by many as an idealization of beauty. She was an icon of the female seductress, and her erotic dance resulted in the beheading of John the Baptist. Red-haired people have often been depicted in art and literature as having beastly sexual desires.

            Professor Eisenbart realises his foolishness after the girl finishes playing. He ‘peered into a trophy which suspended/ his image upside down: a sage fool trapped/ by music in a copper net of hair.’ The metaphors used by Harwood in this poem are a delight.


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

One Response to “The poetry of Gwen Harwood #6”

  1. I also like to make poems and read lots of books that is related to Poetry.:`,