In Gwen Harwood's poem, 'At Mornington', she explores the transient nature of life contrasted with the finality of death. The contemplative and solemn tone exhibits the serious nature of the poem as the speaker reflects on life, aging and mortality through Harwood's use of natural imagery. .
The speaker initially recalls an early memory of attempting to walk on the waves at a beach – a childlike belief that alludes to the Biblical story of Jesus walking on water. The waves, which are later described as the death that will "seize [them] at last" adds significance to the speaker's desire to walk on water, as it shows a youthful naivety in the belief that they could cheat death; their lack of control over the forces of nature and death evident as they are so easily "caught and rolled" by the water. Harwood's utilisation of the word "rattl[e]" not only evokes the sound of the shells but also reiterates the connotations of childhood toys and innocence previously suggested by the simile "like a doll". This is furthered by the repetition of "the next wave, the next wave" which echoes the repetitive nature of the act itself, and the childlike doggedness and naivety of the belief. .
The youthful optimism of the first stanza is juxtaposed with the sombre tone of the following verse; reflecting its more serious subjects of death and grief. The ominous mood of the second stanza is immediately established by the word "flood", as if the speaker is overcome or smothered by these childhood memories. This is contrasted with Harwood's subsequent description of memories as "iridescent, fugitive", illustrating the contradictory nature of memories as mesmerising, elusive and dangerously overwhelming. Harwood's juxtaposition of the hard, lifeless substances "marble and granite" with the living and growing "quick of autumn grasses" serves as a metaphor for the transience of life and the finality death; as "quick" life is parted by death in the same way as the grass is by the graves.