Comparing and Contrasting. Nettles, Harmonium and Praise Song For My Mother. Essay

Compare and Contrast 3 poems from AQA GCSE Anthology, Moon on the Tides.

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In this piece of writing I will be comparing and contrasting 3 poems. Which are ‘Praise Song for my mother’, ‘Harmonium’ and ‘Nettles.

The title of each poem describes exactly what it is and what is about. ‘Praise Song for my Mother’ is not actually a poem, it is a praise son. Which in Guyana (where Grace Nichols was born) it is something written after a person close to them has dies. It is written to commemorate and rejoice about a persons life. ‘Nettles’ is a story about a Scannells son who falls into a pit of stinging nettles. Finally, ‘Harmonium’, ‘Harmonium’ almost says what it’s about in its title. If you break it down it makes harmony, which symbolises the relationship between Armitage and his father.

Each of the poets clearly had different backgrounds growing up by the way the write their poems. Grace Nichols (the writer of ‘Praise song for my Mother’) comes from Guyana and had ‘lots of freedom as she was growing up’ (quoted from a BBC interview) and had an extremely large family, which was very common in Guyana.

Nichols described her childhood as ‘magical’ so had a lot of influence over her writing. Vernon Scannell was in WW1, so this has had a lot of influence over his poetry as I will discuss later. Scannell also has six children, similarly to Grace Nichols’ mother. Armitage (the writer of ‘Harmonium’) had a fairly normal childhood and did what most people do, he went to church and was part of a choir, aswell as his father.

Two of the poems focus on male to male relationships, ‘Harmonium’ and ‘Nettles and the other poem focuses on a female to female relationship, ‘Praise Song for my Mother’. So already the relationships are going to be different, as well as the themes. In ‘Praise song for my Mother’ and ‘Harmonium’ it shows that both Nichols and Armitage have very close bonds with their parents. An example of this with ‘Harmonium’ is when Armitage says ‘And he, being him And I, being me’ shows that Armitage and his father are very close.

This is because only people who spend all of the time together will know each others mood swings and know how they generally are. But it could also mean that they have a very complicated relationship, but don’t like to talk about it as they love each other to much to argue. Throughout ‘Praise Song’ Nichols is just cementing how strong there relationship was and showing how much they know each other. For example ‘You were moon’s eye to me’ which means that her mother was ever watchful of her. Furthermore, Yemosa is the moon goddess, so it could also mean that she believes that her mother was her own god she is the person she worships and the person she loves. So going from that point it also suggests that Grace’s mother is very powerful, loving and omnipresent because she was always there for Grace and never let her down, similarly to a God.

These relationships also link in with ‘Nettles’ but seen from the fathers perspective. It shows the love and strong bond between father and son, especially if the child is harmed or damaged in any way. For example after Scannells son get’s stung he goes on a rage, and ‘went outside and slashed in fury’. This shows just how much love is shared between father and son.

The structure of ‘Nettles’ consists of a single stanza, and has a rhyme scheme of A B A B C D C D. The poem is a narrative, and is based on an incident of when his 3 year old boy fell in a ‘bed’ of nettles. One key part in telling that the poem is a narrative is after Scannell has ‘slashed in fury’ he goes on to say ‘Next task’ as it is like an over watch on the situation The line lengths in Nettles have no real pattern and there is only one stanza.

The A B A B C D C D rhyme scheme is consistent and constant thorough out the whole poem, which suggests that Scannell was always consistent and there for his son through out the entirety of his life until Scannells death in 2007. The poem is one continuous verse which is similar to be a father as the work never stops. ‘Praise Songs’ structure I the same and consistent all of the way through, just how Nichols’ mother was to her. Each stanza consist of three lines apart from the last. The lines in the stanzas get progressively longer, making the stanzas look like stairs. Whereas in Harmonium there are four stanzas, with no consistent pattern or rhythm to it. Which could suggest that there was no consistency within Armitages’ relationship with his father.

Because Scannell was in WWII he uses a lot of military metaphors in his
poetry. For example in ‘Nettles’ he uses words such as ‘Regiment, Recruits, Spears and Wounds’. He does this to try and make the nettles stand out as being the enemy in this situation, which clearly they are as they have inflicted pain upon his son. In ‘Praise Song’ the first line of each stanza says ‘You were’ which is reflecting on how she feels about her mother.

This is also speaking in the past tense, so this means that her mother has passed away and is a memorial poem, or as is said in Guyana a Praise Song. For example ‘You were water to me’ which could mean that her mother was what kept her alive. This really expresses how much Nichols’ mother was there for her and how much her mother cared for her. At the end of the poem when Nichols says, ‘Go to your wide futures you said’ suggests that her mother is blessing her as an adult. This is very similar to Harmonium as both relationships have really stood the test of time, this is expressed in Harmonium when Armitage says ‘For a hundred years that organ stood’. Obviously his father wasn’t one hundred years of age but it is a metaphor to say that his father has been around and alive for the good part of his life.

In the final line of ‘Harmonium’ Armitage says ‘Too starved of breath to make itself heard’ which means that Armitages’ father is dying very quickly but neither of them want to talk about it. It shows that this is the first time the subject has been brought up, and at this stage it is clear that Armitages’ dads death will be imminently soon.

This can also be the shock and realisation of what is going to happen in the near future. Throughout the poem it shows higher emotions, as the concept of death gets drawn in even further than it has already, it’s almost like that it’s telling the story of his childhood as both of them get progressively older. This is almost exactly the same as ‘Praise Song’ as throughout the poem the words she uses in the stanzas are more powerful and have more depth to them.

When Grace Nichols says her mother was ‘mantling’ to her it could mean that her mother was the core to her survival and well-being. On a secondary level, the core can also mean that her mother was the core to her success and great life. She was the one who was always the heart and sole of everyone as she was such a great person and cared for everyone.

‘The flame tree’s spread to me’ reflects the beautiful wildlife of Guyana, with the rainbow like colours. This shows that her mother was happy, and full of life. This links in with ‘Harmonium’ when Armitage talks about ‘The sunlight through the stained glass’. This shows that this image must have occurred often and been something beautiful as he has remembered it after all of these years. Because it was in a church there must have been a lot of colours which would be easily memorable.

In all three poems the love and affection between the parent and child is relentless. This is shown in ‘Harmonium’ when Armitage says that high note had streamed out’ this can mean that there is a high level of love and affection. And the ‘high’ part is talking about the good times, the high times that they have shared together. But in ‘Nettles’ the love and affection is showing in a different way.

For example when Scannell talks about ‘those green spears’ means that life will always throw pain at you no matter what. He shows his love in a different way to Nichols and Armitage. He shows his love by getting revenge on the thing that has harmed his child. He ‘slashes in fury’ showing his rage towards the nettles, and he is eliminating all enemies that could harm him. Just how Grace Nichols’ mother was to her, ‘bold and deep’ means that her mother would not allow harm to come towards her and would try to prevent anything bad from happening at all costs.

Eventhough Armitage ‘slashes in fury’ and made a ‘funeral pyre’ to burn them. But no matter what Scannell does to those ‘tall recruits’ will keep on growing, just like life’s problems, whatever is done to try and stop problems they will keep coming back. It can also mean that problems will start at birth and continue until death, But oddly in ‘Praise Song’ Nichols doesn’t focus on the trials and tribulations of life she focuses on the positives of life and her childhood.

From the poem ‘Praise Song’ it seems as though Nichols had no problems growing up and that everything was okay, but in ‘Harmonium’ it tells a mixture of both the good times and the bad times. This point is explained when Armitage goes from talking about the high moments in the choir to talking about ‘his own blue cloud of tobacco smog’, which suggest that there were times that were dark and unpleasant where there were arguments and fallings out.

All in all, each poem is very powerful and moving. Each of them focus on the love and compassion of mother, daughter and father, son relationships. Because each of the poets had different backgrounds, their style of writing is very different, but very similar at the same time.

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