The Spike Victoria University College Review 1944
This year, I feel, on the basis of the verse I have been privileged to read, might almost be called the year of weariness, Mr. Davey is weary of the drought-parched earth (though perhaps only on one particular day); Mr. Hayman's skull is weary; and Mr. Witheford, though he does not specifically admit weariness, yet seems so much in love with easeful death that he contemplates the embarrassing prospect of living with positive distate. After the necessary re-reading of the pieces of verse that survived the first round, indeed, I almost yearned for a nice big hunk of Robert Browning, baffled to fight better, going breast-forward, landing with a wallop on God. The College poets didn't seem to steer in that direction, even with the example of T. S. Eliot, whose characteristic approach is so very different from that of our hearty Victorian. There is probably some significant lesson to be learned here about civilization in New Zealand, if only one could work it out.
Let we get back to the verse as verse, however. There was a surprisingly small number of poets in the ring—either the breed is dying out, or habits of self-criticism are coming on; or perhaps there is merely a general shunning of publicity. Mr. Meek, with his comparative maturity of craftsmanship, I thought was probably ineligible for competitive honours. For a time I inclined to Mr. Davey's 'Dragonfly' as the best bit of verse submitted; it is pleasant, and conveys a gentle lyric mood, quite unpretentious but quite truly felt and truly rendered. But a fifth or sixth reading tends to wear away its surface too much: it hasn't been worked over enough, it's words tend to repeat (moment, flashing, flashed), or are not precise enough ('ringing' ducks, 'chiffon' wings); nor does a poised violin bow sway gently, the violinist being sober. The last two lines, however, deserve a high mark. Mr. Hayman also is fairly successful in getting a mood across in 'The Perverter of my Dreams,' but his lines are not at all consistently good. No man who starts off as well as he does has any right to finish up with the broken doll motif.
On the whole, I think Mr. Witheford takes the honours; anyhow his 'Ein Feste Burg' does. The other exaMples of his talent move me less—though 'Moment' finishes well—and what he means by the line 'And reddened waves dark ecstasy defiles' I confess bafflles me. 'Ein Feste Burg' seems to demand more punctuation than two dashes, three commas, and one full point. Nevertheless it is an original conception, and though it is rather crowded with metaphor it is held together fairly tightly and makes a pretty consistent whole. It calls for several readings before it becomes entirely clear, but it stands up to them. This seems to me to be the acid test, and I accordingly put 'Ein Feste Burg' first, with 'Dragonfly' the runner-up, and 'Moment' in third place.
J. C. Beaglehole