Yes, this is the true Gwen Harwood whose work often demonstrates a great deal of her herself: her knowledge, intellect and interests in many areas, which subsequently craft her work as being a product of her own personal context, yet still open for interpretations by alternate readings.
Her reoccurring themes of the transience of time and the nature of existence produce a unity in her works by consistently projecting witty and insightful comments about such themes that are intrinsically a part of humanity, and therefore universally appealing to many.
Predominantly, Harwood continually addresses the predicament of human nature in the dilemma of reconciling conflicting desires and notions, through her renowned poetry and letters which explore her themes. The poems Triste, Triste and The Sharpness of Death, demonstrate such dilemmas (such as the one present in her quote) and are an attribute of Harwood's unique poetic vision as they explore the tensions of being caught between 'life & death' and 'flesh & the spirit', conflicting desires and notions, through a journey which demonstrates Harwood's fascination with the interplay of reason & creativity, mortality & spirituality.
Triste Triste (translated to sad sad) defines the time between coition and slumber. In this poem, Harwood focuses on the tensions between 'flesh & spirit' by depicting the persona's restricted creativity under the force of life's demands.
The line "the heart mourns in its prison" conveys an urgent necessity to liberate the heart, which is personified by reference to its mourning and predicament. Later, from the simile "Body roles back like a stone, and rise/ spirit walks to Easter light", we come to realise that the spirit, like the heart, symbolizes the persona's desire to defy the transience of the natural world and set her artistic creativity free, although she is restrained by her domestic demands and the temporal (earthly, rather than spiritual) body.
Also evident in this line, the resurrection imagery and Biblical allusions to Christ's crucifixion, passion and rebirth in the words "walks to Easter light" as well as the repetition of "Remember me!", emphasises the necessity of the spirit to be set free, as a way of being rejuvenated and revitalised.
However, the tensions between the two elements of 'self'- 'flesh & spirit' -and her dilemma of being caught between them is better fathomed in the juxtaposition: " as it falls from its dream to the deep/ to harrow heart's prison so heart may waken to peace in the paradise of sleep" reveals the necessity of the body in reaching the paradise of sleep and subsequently the liberation of the persona's creative spirit which is released by the bounty of sleep, although they cannot work together either- thus illustrating the conflicting, irreconcilable nature of' flesh & spirit' which engenders a tension that is the dilemma of the persona in this poem.
Howard's engagement in conflicting notions of spirituality, creativity and reason come to show her profound appreciation of these notions and present element of her poetic vision, which is supported by her habitual use of biblical allusions in many of her poems, such as the resurrection imagery in this one.
Also, correlative to many of her poems, the Sharpness of Death is characterised by a strong sense of voice and her power to modulate (change from tone to tone,) while still maintaining a firm control overall. In this poem, Harwood concentrates on the tension between 'life & death' in 4 separate parts, where each provide a different, yet somewhat similar outlook and attitudes on Death, which is personified, evident its capital letter and in the line "Death you have become obscene": a description also used in another one of Harwood's poems- Father and Child: signifying its importance in this poem.
Throughout the poem, the persona addresses Death with varying tones: from being demanding, evident in the line "Leave me alone!", to desperate, as can be seen in her attempt to bargain with death in the line "Suppose we come to terms". Shifts in tone produce a conversational style and founds a sense of immediacy throughout the persona's discourse with Death as she tries to reconcile with it, and come to terms with the nature of human existence- 'life & death'- as well as with conflicting notions of mortality and reason. This is evident in parts 1 and 2, where we responders are presented with a paradoxical image, immersed in intertextual allusions to romantic poets John Keats and John Donne by providing archaic descriptions of death such as "sweet" or "easeful" which were utilised by the two poets in their poems.
The image attempts to clarify the enigmatic ideas of modern philosophy in the lines: (to death) "You're in the hands of philosphers/ who cut themselves, and bleed, / and know that knives are sharp,/ but prove with complex logic,/ there's no such thing as sharpness." - foreshadowing her future reference (allusions) to the biography and works of philosophers and linguists which provide an extra layer of meaning to her literature, as well as this poem which illustrates her enthrallment of the tensions between logic, reason and ' life & death' as she comes to the conclusion: " No one could die for him" , similar to Father and Child, where she expresses that "No tears could mend" the nature of existence, i.e. it is temporal and bound to come to an end. Such allusions also demonstrate Harwood's extremely wide reading, evident in most her poems such as in "A Valediction" which also presents references to Donne.
Her fascination with 'reasoning' and 'logic' and 'mortality' is also evident in this poem, where she continually refers to death as being "untranslatable" and " the ultimate situation" which is unknown, indecipherable until experienced, similar to life- creating a dilemma and emphasising the tensions between 'life & death'.
Rhetorical questions are also utilised by Harwood to engage responders, by evoking thought and presenting contemplative ideas which stir her poems. Two examples include the questions Harwood asks regarding HÃ-LDERIN's ontological works, in the quote "Was it significant nonsense or deep insight/ flowed from his pen?" Or in part 3: "How would you ever know me now / if i came to your grave and called you" -where she's addressing a dead artist she once had a "crazy love" for. This line also demonstrates the transience of time and the mortal nature of human existence- again touching on concepts of 'life & death' and the predicament of human nature being caught between them.
As can be seen, Gwen Harwood's characteristic style, reoccurring textual qualities (such as constant allusions to the works of linguists, philosophers and poets), and her unique and profound insights into the mysteries of 'life & death', 'flesh & spirit' which arise from her extremely wide reading that is increasingly evident all of her works, demonstrates the ability of her literature to maintain textual integrity and transcend their immediate context. Poems such as The Sharpness of Death and Triste Triste expose the tensions of being caught between 'life & death' and 'flesh and spirit' and Harwood's distinctive poetic vision unifies her poems to create an integrated whole through her peculiar and uncanny ability to describe human experiences and capture true emotion: accrediting her as one of Australia's most well known poets.