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James K. Baxter Complete Prose Volume 4

Dunedin and Christchurch: The Early Years — 1943-1948

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Dunedin and Christchurch: The Early Years



Before Sunrise [1]; A description; Hocken Library; Baxter, James Keir: Literary Papers: (ARC 0027) MS-0975/142. Subsequent references to JKB’s manuscripts in the Hocken Library collection will appear as ‘Hocken’ followed by the manuscript number.

The episode described in this sketch occurred during an annual holiday camp by the Baxter family, perhaps near Lake Ohau. He annotated it retrospectively ‘c. 1941’. In January 1941 he was aged fourteen; in December he was fifteen. But because the protagonist of the narrative is aged sixteen it seems likely that the essay was written between December 1942 and January 1943, when JKB was aged sixteen.

He sub-titled this prose passage ‘A description’ because he intended it to be a pictorial exercise rather than a story. He was already exploring the connection between poetry and prose and on 18 March 1944 told his new friend Noel Ginn that ‘Poetry is an attitude, not verse or rhyme, and will go into prose instead.’ Presumably he meant ‘poetic prose’ (see below) which, in fact, may have included prose-poetry. JKB would have regarded this exercise as ‘impressionistic’.

The fact that he used both a first-person and a third-person narrative focus suggests that this is an early draft and that he was unsure how to deploy autobiographical elements in fiction.

There are mountains upon mountains: about this time JKB wrote ‘The Mountains’ (CP 8). On 16 January 1943 he sent a copy to Ginn, remarking that it referred to the landscape around Naseby, in Central Otago, where he had spent part of the holidays.

Fell: possibly suggested by Hopkins’s ‘I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day’. (Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Third edition. Edited by W.H. Gardner. London: Geoffrey Cumberlege / Oxford University Press, 1949.) On 28 August 1942 JKB told Ginn that his poem ‘Rain-Ploughs’ might seem ‘like Hopkins gone mad’.

The passage in the semi-final paragraph ‘Tent-bedded . . . quiet’ is extracted from a separate piece of writing. On 6 November 1943 JKB wrote to Ginn in an oddly punctuated and capitalised passage:

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If someone calls a description ‘poetic prose’ he means, not that reality has been set down on paper in appropriate words, but that the writer has not seen it with dead eyes but given his interpretation, coloured the landscape with his emotion. If you want to express FACT write prose; if you want to express emotion write poetry.

Upon the rotted quay Old ships sun-foundered, dry, grass grows on deck to the salt winds that call them vainly. Upon the rotted quay The waves of the inland sea . . . I dived once from that jetty; swam down under water where the lake-floor lies out of perspective; under the wooden girders I swam, below sea-storm, my merhair swam like weed suspended and rippling; I reached in the unknown element, unbreathing, saw secrets unnameable, then rose by the black quay – beware snags – to the fear of my flesh-kin. waves of the inland sea Beat in the midnight watches sent With murmur turbulent

Tent-bedded I lie safe in body and cloak of memory; but behind my musing eyes, beyond walls of bone, is reality not of me, where the sea in dark hills cupped, whose waves are death or longing slap rotted wood in multitudinous strife and quiet.

This is an extract from my prose. But it is not prose in character though prose in form. Prose should be terse, and convey its effects by implication; it does not interpret emotion, though there may be emotion behind it. . . . (Frank McKay Collection of Baxter Papers, J.C. Beaglehole Room, Victoria University of Wellington Library; VUW MS McKay28/23; Millar 279).

Noel Ginn (1916-2003), arrested as a defaulter in 1942, became a friend of JKB’s brother Terence and subsequently of JKB. He provided intelligent and informed responses to JKB’s enthusiastic early letters and reviewed Beyond the Palisade in Art in New Zealand 17 no. 5, p. 17 (Sep.-Oct. 1945). See ‘Short Biographies of Some New Zealand Writers’ which follows Notes and References in this book. (It is subsequently referred to as SB.)

Art in New Zealand, a quarterly first produced in September 1928, was the brainchild of the Christchurch printer H.H. (Harry) Tombs. In 1945 it metamorphosed into Arts Year Book, edited by Harold Wadman.

Francis Michael McKay (1920-91), Catholic priest, university lecturer, editor, Baxter scholar. See SB. Paul Millar, university lecturer and Baxter scholar. See SB. Second and third drafts of this item are reproduced in this collection to illustrate the early developmental stages of JKB’s prose technique. (See Nos. 5 and 31.)

Thomas Moreland Hocken (1836-1910) was a physician, book collector, researcher and bibliographer who donated his collection of early New Zealand material to the University of Otago. The Hocken Library was opened in 1910, just before his death.

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The Kite; Hocken (ARC-0027) MS-0975/027. The item is signed ‘J.K.B.’ and includes the note ‘(approx. 1942)’. Alterations in the text may have been made at a later time. They generally aim at simplifying language and making the narrative more direct.

The semi-final paragraph, which was deleted, suggests that JKB considered that his parents did not understand his personality and his poetic nature: ‘The boy knew it would make no difference if he said that he had not intended to steal. He felt only a dull antagonism toward those who destroyed yet could not comprehend his inner life.’


Short Extracts from My Diary – Ten Years Hence; MS Book 10, pp. 146-7. [Teacher’s comment] ‘7/10 Rather cynical’. The implication, gathered from the title and the opening line, suggests that the passage was written on 23 February 1952 but not included in the manuscript book until late 1953.


[The divorce of poetry]; in MS Book 10, pp. 148-9.

Milton’s ‘blind mouths’: lines 119 and 120 of Lycidas, Milton’s pastoral elegy for a drowned friend, contrasts the virtues of the dead man with those of living clergy who lead corrupt lives: ‘Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold / A sheep-hook’.

the greatest modern poet, W.B. Yeats: William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 yet his finest poems were contained in The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and other poems (1929). Yeats renewed his poetry late in life but even though he lived to be a great poet in modern times some critics do not regard him as a true modernist. At this stage JKB preferred Yeats to other modernists because Yeats was a Romantic and JKB owed his allegiance to the Romantic tradition admired by his father who ‘had his head full of Burns, Byron, Blake, Shelley and Thomas Hood’. JKB added ‘With no secondary-school education to fuddle his brains, he tried to write in the manner of the poets he most admired.’ (See No. 299, ‘Further Notes on New Zealand Poetry’.)

JKB differentiated between modernists and ‘real poets’ when he told Ginn ‘I think that Auden, Spender, MacNeice, Day Lewis, and even Dylan Thomas or T.S. Eliot, are, if they can forget their mannerisms of modernity and Marxism, real poets.’ (28 Aug. 1942; VUW Library, MS McKay 28/2; Millar 143). He told Ginn (4 Sep. 1943) that he admired Yeats: ‘I have got the Faber Book of Modern Verse and bury myself in Yeats in whom I find the most poetry.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/17; Millar 255). The Faber Book of Modern Verse. London: Faber & Faber, 1936, was edited by Michael Roberts. Later JKB acknowledged that Yeats was a converted rhetorician, ‘the man who cleaned and re-loaded the gun of rhetoric for modern handling.’ See No. 236, JKB’s review of Patrick Wilson’s Staying at Ballisodare.

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‘Light thickens’: from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth 3.2: ‘. . . Light thickens, and the crow / Makes wing to the rocky wood’.


Before Sunrise [2]; VUW Library, MS McKay 28/50; Millar 346-49. See No. 31, the final version published in 1948.


Mood; in Critic XX.8 (20 July 1944): 6. Critic (University of Otago Students’ Association). Dunedin. 1 (Apr. 2, 1925)

It was published over the pseudonym ‘Gull’. JKB’s early poems ‘Under a Sun’ (CP 3; written 1941) and ‘Eagle’ (CP 12; written 1937-43) appeared on the same page of Critic as ‘Mood’.

Also on this page is a report of a meeting of the University of Otago Literary Society. Entitled ‘What is Art?’ it summarises the opinions of a symposium of four speakers. Under the heading ‘Art and the Poet’ JKB was reported as saying

that the poet must be a discriminating master of word selection, selecting, comparing, and choosing words that most faithfully expressed his thoughts. The resultant poem could be merely a rhythmic, melodious form of technical beauty, but no substance. Therefore the poet needs to be motivated by deep feeling and sensitivity. In many of the best poems with this deep feeling, the selection of words is unconscious. While the selection is undoubtedly conscious, one can often detect an element of artificiality. Mr Baxter quoted from various poets to illustrate his contentions.

The report was signed ‘C.W.T.’


Prose Poem [To the Great Salt Heart Return the Veined Rivers]; in Critic

XX.8 (20 July 1944) 6. Signed ‘J.K.B.’


Wilfred Owen; in Critic XX.8 (20 July, 1944) 6.

Signed ‘J.K.B.’

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893-1918) was born in Shropshire. After studying botany and Old English at University College, Reading, he taught English and French in France. In 1916 he began service at the war front where he suffered from shell-shock. While recuperating in Edinburgh he became a friend of Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and his romantic verse was influenced by Sassoon’s realism. He returned to the Front late in 1918 but was killed one week before the war ended.

After the First World War Edith Sitwell published seven of Owen’s poems in Wheels, the magazine she edited. She intended to publish more and was planning to edit a collection of his poetry for publication when she learned in 1919 that he had wanted his friend and fellow-soldier Siegfried Sassoon to publish them. Sassoon wrote the Introduction but left Sitwell to do thepage 175 remainder of the work.

In 1931 Edmund Blunden edited an enlarged edition, The Poems of Wilfred Owen. London: Chatto & Windus, 1931, with biographical and critical elements which were not included in the first edition. The Phoenix Library edition which JKB reviewed was one of nine reprintings or editions issued between 1931 and 1963.

Edmund Charles Blunden (1896-1974) was educated at Christ’s Hospital and Queen’s College, Oxford. After surviving the First World War he began a literary career and published poetry and literary criticism during a long career which culminated in 1966 when he was appointed Oxford Professor of Poetry. (He found the role stressful and resigned after two years.)


The Sea Stayed; in Critic XX.10 (7 Sep. 1944) 10.

Burns: this is the first time JKB mentioned Robert Burns in his surviving literature. Other references are found throughout CPr.

buirdly: sturdy, muscular, robust; ‘chiel’: a young man.


Thoughts Concerning a Career; Hocken-MS 0975/141.

Hocken MS-0975/141 is a second copy.

In a letter written to Ginn the year before JKB attended university he mentioned possible careers. Much later in life when he was reconsidering his career he again summarised his thoughts on paper. (See No. 509, ‘Some Points of Difficulty’.)

I do not wish to lose my religion: it is significant that in a document entitled ‘Thoughts concerning a career’ JKB should be most concerned about religion. He was naturally religious and his religious beliefs and practices became the most important component of his life.

I know now that later in life I will write prose and good prose. This will not be aesthetic prose, but rather realist: this was an accurate prediction.

I do not value monetary success: I value my own happiness: late in life JKB took a voluntary vow of poverty in his attempt to achieve happiness through detachment and service.

I do not wish to be an intellectual: his determination not to be an intellectual returned to him with life-changing consequences at several points in his career.

in the Tolstoyan sense: JKB asked Noel Ginn (12 Feb. 1943) to ‘Remind [his brother Terry] that Tolstoy lives yet (in the true sense of living – i.e. in the minds of others) and exerts a continual influence on many people.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/8; Millar 193). He explained that a ‘vertebrate’ writer such as Tolstoy communicated morality, ‘no mere rigid structure but a natural growth’ (16 Oct. 1943) and added that ‘“subjectivity” is his true line of development.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/21; Millar 273). On 25 May 1944 JKB told Ginn that he had been reading Tolstoy’s ‘Death of Ivan page 176 Ilych’ and ‘Father Sergius’: ‘the first is the best short story in the world to me perfect and powerful description of the psychology of a dying man. The second is more the voice of the preacher, still excellent.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/42).

women are rarely intellectuals: at some stages of his life JKB’s general attitudes to women were not balanced or realistic. When he spoke against women he may have been driven by his uneasy relationship with his mother or with particular young women who rejected his advances.

the cynical intellectual . . . Huxley: on 16 Oct. 1943 JKB told Ginn that Huxley ‘has internal strife and true introversion’. Unlike Tolstoy, whom he classified as a ‘vertebrate’ he regarded Huxley as an ‘invertebrate’ because he had ‘a shell of cynicism, fashion, perhaps even intellectual brilliance; it is sensitive but self-centred.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/21; Millar 273). JKB wrote of himself: ‘I don’t consider myself a vertebrate, remember: poems apparently firm rise often from trouble, even occasionally from despair.’ (2734). JKB usually wrote his best work from the negative side of the equation and asserted at various times that love poems written from this position are stronger than those from the affirmative side.

JKB may not have understood the opinions of the English novelist Aldous [Leonard] Huxley(1894-1963).

It is not the job I do, it is what I am that matters. I do not much fear death, poverty, or persecution such as that of the COs I do greatly fear any loss of integrity in myself: (‘COs’: ‘Conscientious Objectors’, such as Noel Ginn.) JKB consistently maintained this attitude throughout his life.


[When the wound has grown shallow]; in MS Book 14, p. 6; poem no. 859. Weir Papers, Macmillan Brown Library, University of Canterbury. Item 4/2/1 Box 15. It is annotated ‘[aged] 18’. (The previous poem was dated 8/3/45.) In 1948 JKB wrote and published a group of prose-poems.

JKB was influenced to write prose poems by the example of Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-67) who wrote prose poems during the 1860s. In 1969 they were published posthumously as Petits Poèmes en Prose.

Even though JKB’s prose poems cannot strictly be categorised as ‘prose’ they are included here because they are partly prose and because they illustrate the themes, tone and style of JKB’s writing at this early stage. None were included in CP.


Foreword [to Cold Spring]; VUW Library MS McKay 19/3/2; enclosed with letter to Lawrence Baigent.

Lawrence [Albert] Baigent (1912-85), editor, aesthete and university lecturer, was born in Nelson and educated at Nelson College where he met Leo [Vernon] Benseman (1912-86) who was to become his lifelong friend.

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So close were they that when Baigent and his mother moved to Christchurch in 1930 or 1931 Benseman went with them. He lived with them until Mrs Baigent died seven years later. In 1938 Baigent and Benseman, who had become lovers, moved into a studio flat at 97B Cambridge Terrace next-door to the flat (97A) where the notable artist Rita Angus (1908-70) lived. The three became close friends. After graduating in English from Canterbury University College Baigent became a teacher at Christchurch Boys High School. That year Benseman, who was a typographer, illustrator and artist, became a partner of Denis Glover and Denis Donovan at the Caxton Press where he stayed for forty years. He was a successful artist and this interest caused him to become a member of the Christchurch Group until it disbanded in 1976.

When Baigent declared that he was a conscientious objector and refused to undertake military service he lost his teaching position at Christchurch Boys High School. Because of his friendship with Benseman and his literary interest (with Curnow, Fairburn, Glover, Robin Hyde and Peter Middleton, he was a contributor to A Caxton Miscellany 1937) he was subsequently offered employment at the Caxton Press and he and Benseman kept the Press going while Glover was overseas. (On 29 May 1944 Curnow told Ursula Bethell that Baigent’s taste was marred by ‘fastidiousness or priggishness’.)

In August 1944 Millicent Baxter led her teenaged poet-son through the door, along with a sampling of his poems. When Baigent read them he was astonished at their quality and accepted them for publication. In 1945 he introduced JKB to his friends, including Curnow, Lilburn and Rita Angus.

Millar pointed out (Cold Spring, xiii) that from October 1944 JKB hoped to issue a second collection of poetry, entitled ‘Cold Spring’. It would contain poems written (with one exception) between 23 March 1944 and 15 March 1945. He modelled the book on the four-part structure devised for Sydney Keyes’s The Cruel Solstice which Baigent sent him at Christmas. Sydney [Arthur Kilworth] Keyes (1922-43) was killed in action two weeks after beginning his military service in Tunisia. He was not yet twenty-one. The Cruel Solstice (1943) was his second poetry collection.

When JKB offered the manuscript of ‘Cold Spring’ to Baigent early in 1945 it seemed that his overtures would be successful but he withdrew it in June because he hoped to have it published in England. This did not happen and on 12 October 1945 he urged Baigent to publish it, adding, ‘I enclose a preface, or rather foreword, not too priggish I hope, not that I care a damn anyway – will say what I think fit, and let the poems stand up for themselves. Right enough, a foreword to a 2nd volume. If for some reason you should think it not suitable, just leave it out. It is fair enough prose.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 19/3/27 and Millar xiv).

I included two poems from the selection (‘In Monochrome’ and ‘Nor did I ask’) in The Labyrinth (Wellington, Oxford University Press, 1974) andpage 178 later in CP because I regarded them as superior to others in the ‘Cold Spring’ group. Ultimately, in line with the principle that publication in periodicals was insufficient justification for including particular poems in CP, no other poems from ‘Cold Spring’ were included. The chief reason was that the omitted poems were inferior in quality to those included; a secondary reason was that there was a need to limit the size of the volume. (CP was not intended to be a complete edition of JKB’s poetry.)

Years later JKB paid a large compliment to Baigent:

. . . I remember too clearly how in the last stages of my own singularly painful adolescence I had the good fortune to make friends with a man of homosexual temperament – and how his charity and tolerance and a personal love, essentially motherly and protective in quality, helped me to grow and survive and understand myself. He most scrupulously avoided influencing me towards a homosexual way of life. I regard his intervention in my life at that time as providential. And I am glad God gave one man the power to love his fellows so well. His conversation incidentally was humorous and scatological. It was what I needed most to add some salt to the porridge. And he had a deep understanding of the processes of art. (The Flowering Cross. Dunedin: New Zealand Tablet Co. 1969, p. 78; subsequently referred to as TFC)

Stephen [Harold] Spender (1909-95), English poet and prose writer, gave vent to his left-leaning social concerns in Poems (1933), Vienna (1934) and the anti-Fascist verse drama Trial of a Judge (1938). A member of the Communist Party, he fought against Franco’s forces in Spain during the civil war. In 1949 he expressed his disillusionment with Communism in his contribution to The God that Failed, a collection of essays by various writers. In 1954 he accepted the chair of Poetry at the University of Cincinnati, having previously taught at several American universities. He co-founded Horizon magazine and edited Encounter magazine from 1953 to 1966, claiming later that he was not aware that it was covertly funded by the CIA. He became Professor of English at University College, London (1970-77) and was knighted in 1983. His Collected Poems 1928-85 was published in 1986. After his death New Collected Poems, edited by Michael Brett, was published in 2004. JKB did not approve of Spender’s later right-wing ideas.

On 4 July 1943 JKB told Ginn that ‘Spender’s vitality of emotion excuses his partial obscurity and his subtlety makes for fine poetry. The literary conscience is too raw which classes pity or indignation or nostalgia with sentimentality.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/14; Millar 235).

the later Auden: Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-73), poet and critic, was born in England but later became an American citizen. From early on he wrote verse notable for its technical accomplishment and breadth of concerns. Poems (1930) was accepted by T.S. Eliot for Faber and Faber. Look, Stranger (1936) enhanced his reputation as the leading poet of his generation. Another Timepage 179 (1938) included love poems and anti-heroic ballads. After he moved to the United States in 1939, publicly at least, he abandoned his left-wing leanings. His long philosophical poem New Year Letter (1940) had a profound effect upon JKB, as did For the Time Being (1944) and The Age of Anxiety (1947). During the 1950s Auden began to write in a more relaxed manner and on incidental themes, his poetry often circling around the link between language and emotion. His personalist tone is evident in Thank You, Fog (published posthumously in 1974) which included poems about aging.

On 21 August 1942 JKB told Ginn that he had been reading Auden’s poetry ‘for the first time’. In a letter of 4 July 1943 JKB remarked that ‘Auden’s mannerisms are irritating, but he is (though more obtuse) more adult than Spender. He is more subtle, yet retains vigour. I think that he has a good grasp of the mental attitudes of modern intellectuals.’ JKB’s patronising opinion of the leading modernist poet was modified by 12 January 1944 when he told Ginn about his holiday activities at Naseby. ‘Auden read avidly; I’ve always considered him the best modern since I first read “Lay your sleeping head” . . .’ (VUW Library MS McKay 28/30; Millar 314).

the nautical Masefield: John [Edward] Masefield (1878-1967), poet and novelist, left school to train as a seaman on HMS Conway. Afterwards he sailed on other vessels but deserted ship to become a writer. His first poetry collection, Salt-Water Ballads (including ‘Sea Fever’, his best-known and most loved poem) was published when he was aged twenty-four. Mansfield was poet laureate for the last thirty-seven years of his life. On 21 August 1942 JKB told Ginn that his brother Terry had been reading Dauber, a long ‘nautical’ poem first published in book form in 1913. He asked Ginn to show Terry any poems about the sea.

The romantic Byron: George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), 1788-1824, poet and revolutionary. JKB was referring not to his satires but to such romantic lyrics as ‘So, we’ll go no more a roving’ and ‘She walks in beauty’. The errors JKB referred to may include Byron’s general debauchery. Permission to bury his body in Westminster Abbey was refused but it seemed appropriate to some that it was buried in the Church of St Mary Magdalene (in Hucknall, Nottingham). On 18 March 1944 JKB told Ginn that he regretted that Byron did not write prose, rather than poetry, in his maturity. On 1 May 1945 he assured Ginn that ‘it is better to err with Burns and Byron than to fall in line with Brasch.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/52; Millar 405). He was implicitly contrasting the robust licentiousness of their poetry with the bloodless austerity of Charles Brasch’s.

Charles [Orwell] Brasch (1909-73) was a poet, editor and philanthropist. See SB.

the modern poet . . . may be taught by Burns as readily as by Eliot: JKB was a traditional rather than a modernist poet. In a letter to Ginn written in [July/ Aug. 1943] he remarked that ‘One who cannot appreciate Burns because hepage 180 is on the whole traditional and sentimental is in my eyes a literary lost soul.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/15]; Millar 244). On 26 March 1943, when JKB was short of books, he informed Ginn that he had ‘fallen back on Burns and the Bible’. Later he said in The Man on the Horse (p. 91), ‘I have loved his work all my life’. He explained ‘Before I was six years old, I knew “Tam o’ Shanter” by heart, and parts of other poems by Burns, having received them orally from my father, without whom I would never have come to a knowledge or practice of poetry. And when a small white book, the first book of verse I remember seeing, was put into my hands, it was a selection from Burns, a tribal gift, the book by which I could communicate with the dead and myself understand the language of the daimon . . . . In Burns’s poems the struggle of the natural man against that inhuman crystalline vision of the total depravity of the flesh and the rigid holiness of the elect was carried out with superb energy, precision and humour.’ In 1947 JKB paid a tribute to his father’s latent poetic talent and his hope that his son might become a true poet:

You were a poet whom the time betrayed

To action. So, as Jewish Solomon

Prayed for wisdom, you had prayed

That you might have a poet for a son.

The prayer was answered; but an answer may

Confound by its exactness those who pray.

taught by . . . Eliot: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965), poet, critic and playwright, was born in the USA. After studying at Harvard University and Merton College, Oxford, he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in 1915 but the marriage brought unhappiness to both of them. In 1925 he joined a publishing firm which ultimately became Faber and Faber. Two years later he became an Anglican and a British subject. In 1932 he separated from his wife and even though he remained married he saw her only once more before her death in 1947.

‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ caused a stir when it appeared in Poetry Magazine in 1915. In 1922 there was a greater stir when he published ‘The Waste Land’ in The Criterion. (At the time he was recovering from a breakdown.) In 1925 he published ‘The Hollow Men’. Eliot’s poetry publications included Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) and Poems, 1909-25.

From 1927 on his poetry became increasingly magisterial, culminating in the Four Quartets, published individually between 1936 and 1942, which earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. When JKB referred to Eliot as a teacher he meant not only the example of his poetry and his moralism but also the strictures he conceived in such important works of criticism as ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1917).

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JKB did not approve of all of Eliot’s poetry. In a letter to Ginn of 4 July 1943 he cited some lines from The Waste Land and remarked: ‘The verses may be of great association for T.S. Eliot. But to my mind he has expressed nothing: a wide knowledge of literature is not poetry. The words could have been written by any amateur. Their value is in the mind of Eliot, but there is no vitality, no coherence, to make them intelligible to the reader. They are merely abbreviated literary notes. The author has conveniently forgotten the unconscious dictum of all great poets that verse should have vitality or at least clarity.’ He liked other poems of Eliot which were not obscure but considered that Eliot’s reputation was founded on ‘a misconception of the definition of poetry’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/14; Millar 231). Eventually, in a book review, he paid tribute to Eliot as a ‘master of style’.

Atlas: According to classical mythology when the Titans lost their war against the Olympians Atlas was sentenced by Zeus to stand at the edge of the earth and support the sky on his shoulders, thereby preventing earth and sky from embracing as they had done previously. This is an early prose reference to one of the icons of classical mythology to whom JKB referred at different stages of his writing career.

The distinguishing mark of the best modern poets is an unprecedented degree of self-honesty: JKB always tried to be truthful in his poetry and prose. During a radio interview in 1971, in response to my question ‘You seek, then, a form of truth through your art?’ JKB replied, ‘Always, yes, I think truth has been predominant.’ (See No. 652.)


[Notes for ‘Poetry in New Zealand’]; Hocken MS-0975/20. MS-0975/150 is a second copy. JKB probably wrote these notes about the time that he wrote the article

which follows this item. The fact that he quoted ‘Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness’ and ‘Elegy for my Father’s Father’, rather than other poems, suggests that (in line with his usual practice) he was reading recently completed poems. ‘Elegy for my Father’s Father’ was dated 30 August 1946.

The Moon and Sixpence is the title of a novel by [William] Somerset Maugham. Published by William Heinemann (London, 1919) it tells of Charles Strickland, a respectable English stockbroker, who, after seventeen years of marriage, suddenly abandoned his wife and children and moved to Paris to become an artist. The book is loosely connected with the life of Paul Gauguin. JKB would have approved of Strickland’s withdrawal from a stifling domesticity to a Bohemian mode of existence.

Rita Cook (1908-70) was a pioneering New Zealand artist. Born Henrietta Catherine Angus she married Alfred Cook, a commercial artist, in 1930. They separated in 1934 and divorced in 1939. She continued to use the name ‘Rita Cook’ until 1946 (the year JKB wrote these notes) when she changed it by deed poll to Henrietta Catherine McKenzie. JKB’s remarkpage 182 about ‘Difficulty of finding freedom from irritation’ may allude to the fact that after her separation from her husband she had great difficulty supporting herself financially. She also suffered from depression and illness. A pacifist, she got into trouble with the authorities for refusing to do war work. JKB, who met her through Lawrence Baigent, was also pacifist. Like Baigent he would have admired her courage and determination.

Basil Dowling, A.R.D. Fairburn, R.A.K. Mason, Charles Brasch, Allen Curnow, Denis Glover. See SB.

The early notebook which contains this item opens with three remarks about Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence. It contains some notes on Chaucer (possibly recorded during a lecture at Canterbury University College), a fair draft of his Canta articles on Colin McCahon and Henry Lawson, a draft of an unpublished short story (‘In those times when the Church had grown rich in the goods of this world’) and fragments and drafts of various poems.


[‘In those times when the Church had grown rich in the goods of the world’]; Hocken MS-0975/20.

This is the earliest example of JKB’s use of a parable as a literary form, probably generated by many of the stories he was read when he was a child. He continued to write parables until the last year of his life.

It is a remarkable fact that the views which JKB advocates here also survived until his death.


Poetry in New Zealand; in Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand 2 (1946) 111-114.

Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand: Wellington no. 1 (1945)-7 (1951) was funded by the Wellington publisher Harry Hugo Tombs (1874-1966). See SB. The second issue, in which JKB’s article appeared, was reviewed by Charles Brasch in the first issue of Landfall (Mar. 1947) 70. (Henceforward Landfall is cited as LF.)

The young poet began with the remark that a poet in New Zealand was regarded as a queer bird. The poets currently writing in England were the modernists whom he read with interest and imitated. His distaste for contemporary American poetry is hinted at and he was sceptical that true poetry could be written in New Zealand.

[Jean Nicholas] Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91), French poet of the decadent movement, was never put off by the difficulties of writing in an unsupportive environment because he chose to create his own. Like JKB, and at a similar age, he rejected school, argued with his mother, left home, acted and spoke provocatively, drank too much and wrote a great deal of poetry. Rimbaud had a homosexual relationship with Paul Verlaine. His writing and example influenced JKB more than has been realised.

Dylan [Marlais] Thomas (1914-53), poet, story-writer, writer of filmpage 183 and radio scripts, had a quiet childhood in Swansea, South Wales, where his father taught at the local grammar school. During holidays on an aunt’s dairy farm in Carmarthenshire he stored in his memory many rural images which later entered his poems and stories, e.g. ‘Fern Hill’. He left school in 1930 and afterwards did some freelance journalism and engaged in amateur theatricals. At that time he was steadily writing the poems and stories which would make him famous.

In 1933, when he was aged nineteen, some of his poems, including ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’ and ‘The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower’, were published in the New English Weekly. These poems attracted the attention of Eliot and Spender. In 1934 he moved to London and published more poems in The Listener. His 18 Poems, published in the same year, made him a minor celebrity. His health did not permit him to serve in World War Two so he wrote scripts for the Ministry of Information. Deaths and Entrances (1946) indicated that he was a great poet. It had a profound effect upon JKB who used to carry a copy of it in his pocket. Radio broadcasts and lecture tours added to Thomas’s fame. Under Milk Wood, a radio play, featured characters from a fictitious Welsh village called Llareggub

– this backwards spelling of ‘Bugger all’ suggested that Thomas considered that there was nothing to do there. JKB was influenced by it when he wrote Jack Winter’s Dream.

In 1937 Thomas married Caitlin MacNamara. Afterwards they moved to Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, in West Wales. In 1949 Allen Curnow met Thomas at the BBC headquarters in London and subsequently spent a week with the Thomases at Laugharne. He also spent time with Thomas in the United States in the following year. Thomas’s marriage was turbulent, chiefly because he drank too much. In fact it was alcoholic poisoning, combined with pneumonia, which caused his death in New York in 1953. He described the audience for whom he wrote his poetry:

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Not for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

On 18 March 1944, in a letter cited previously, JKB told Ginn,

Just lately I have been re-reading Dylan Thomas. I find his involved symbolism as difficult as ever, in spite of a sort of emotional reception. I always have the page 184feeling that if one drifts with the current of a poem discarding all values one may be betrayed by one’s own flaws into accepting the cheap and imperfect – e.g. Kipling – but that if one retains a critical faculty of a kind . . .

As a college boy JKB argued that poetry could not be written in New Zealand. But in this article published in 1946 he jettisoned that opinion and stated confidently that ‘our real lives are rooted in these islands’. The young poet and critic had become a New Zealander and was about to develop a distinctive New Zealand biosphere.

He also formed a generalisation which applied to himself in a seminal manner at this stage, but in a robust and challenging manner in the last years of his life: ‘The successful poet will be anarchic in his thinking and feeling.’ In terms of a poetic mythology this is the Promethean strand of his literature.

We lying by seasands: actually ‘We lying by seasand’, originally collected in Thomas’s The Map of Love (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1939). On 3 June 1944 JKB told Ginn, ‘And I agree about Dylan Thomas, an objectionable specimen of introversion – yet would I give worlds to have written his “We lying by seasands” . . .’. (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/43; Millar 360). See No. 244, ‘Man and Poet’.

On 13 July 1958, in what was probably his first public address at Canterbury University College (to the literary society), JKB spoke about Thomas’s poetry, remarking ‘He has had the rare courage to tackle honestly his deepest personal problems’ and, as a result, was ‘making himself by self-expression in poetry’ (McKay 195). Thomas, like JKB, was taking a therapeutic approach to literature. He said that sex, death and sin were Thomas’s themes – and they were also his own.

Robert Browning (1812-89), Victorian poet, created a scandal when he married Elizabeth Barrett in 1846 and eloped with her to Italy. Her father, who refused to let any of his children marry, disinherited her. Browning’s publications included Paracelsus (1835), Sordello (1840), the Bells and Pomegranate series (1841-46), The Ring and the Book (1868-69), Fifine at the Fair (1872) and other works. His last book Asolando was published in the year he died.

On 4 July 1943 JKB told Ginn, ‘I have a distaste for Browning and his crudities.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/14; Millar 230). In an undated letter (July/Aug. 1943) JKB told Ginn, ‘Browning’s apparent deep insight and actual superficiality annoys me intensely. However I cannot deny the durability of many of his lyrics’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/15; Millar 242).

Chesterton says of Browning: in 1966 JKB wrote,

Sometimes a book about a writer can help one beyond all expectation. I have found this three times in my life – once, reading Chesterton on Browning: once reading Hugh B. Staples on the contemporary American poet Robert Lowell: and now again, reading Jacobsen and Mueller on Beckett. The commentators in each case were moved by intelligent, intuitive love.

page 185

Robert Browning, Chesterton’s literary biography, was published in 1903. Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), English journalist, poet, essayist, Christian apologist (Orthodoxy, 1908, and The Everlasting Man, 1925) was a prolific author and a formidable figure in the literary world of his time. The Everlasting Man helped to convert C.S. Lewis to Christianity.

Kowhai Gold: [Charles] Quentin [Fernie] Pope (1900-61), a Wellington journalist and would-be poet, was so incensed by omissions from W.F. Alexander and A.E. Currie’s A Treasury of New Zealand Verse (1926) that he decided to edit his own anthology. (Kowhai Gold; an anthology of contemporary New Zealand verse. London: Dent, 1930). Of the fifty-six poems represented thirty did not appear in Alexander and Currie’s anthology. Pope included poems by Katherine Mansfield, Eileen Duggan, Robin Hyde,

A.R.D. Fairburn and R.A.K. Mason but his selection was generally undiscriminating and his approach painfully poetic. This collection of Georgian verse was deservedly mocked for its enervated language and self-conscious New Zealandism.

My soul is lost and buried here’: these lines are from ‘To a Poplar Tree’, which was published in LF vol. 1 no. 1 (1947) 25. Fairburn wrote to Brasch, ‘I’m glad you had Baxter in. I think he has the makings of something really first-rate – not that the best of his stuff isn’t already as good as good as our best.’ (Edmond, Lauris. The Letters of A.R.D. Fairburn. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1981, pp. 158-9; subsequently referred to as ‘Fairburn, Letters’). JKB admired Fairburn’s work. In 1946 he wrote ‘Have I ever told you that I think you have written the best love poems in New Zealand, and possibly the best among the moderns, not excepting Auden?’ (Trussell, Denys. Fairburn. Auckland: Auckland University Press/Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 214).

JKB considered that he belonged to the same family as the English modernist poets and during his early years he did not hold much regard for New Zealand poetry. (See above.) Later he would say that when he was growing up ‘I knew nothing of the spadework which was being done by Mason, Fairburn, Curnow, Glover or Brasch’ (See No. 299, ‘Further Notes on New Zealand Poetry’).

Glover: Denis [James Matthews] Glover (1912-80), was determined to break the literary stranglehold of Charles Allan Marris (1876-1947). See SB.

Lastly that snowfield’: the closing lines of Glover’s lyric poem ‘Holiday Piece’ (‘Now let my thoughts be like the Arrow, wherein was gold’) which was included in Thirteen Poems (Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1939).

[Arthur] Rex [Dugald] Fairburn (1904-57): see SB. Fairburn’s best poems were short lyrics such as ‘O flame and shadow of remembered time’. Flame and Shadow was the title of a book of poetry published in 1920 by the American poet Sara Teasdale. Fairburn may have lifted the term from her because at that time he would have liked her vaporous Georgian poems onpage 186 the transience of love and life.

old ballad: ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ is a traditional ballad which records the tragic death by shipwreck in the 13th century of the greatest sailor in Scotland in the course of an errand for the King of Scotland which took Spens to Norway in the deep of winter.

Else a great Prince in prison lies’: from John Donne’s ‘The Ecstasy’ (l. 68):

That subtle knot which makes us man:
So must pure lovers’ souls descend
T’affections, and to faculties,
Which some may reach and apprehend,
Else a great Prince in prison lies.

[Thomas] Allen [Munro] Curnow (1911-2001): see SB. In 1945 JKB owed his literary reputation to Curnow and so had good reason to speak well of him in this essay. Millar remarks (p. 116) that JKB was not being duplicitous when he gave Curnow the impression that he had been influenced by other New Zealand poets. On 8 April 1945 he told Ginn that when he spent Easter with Baigent in Christchurch he had met Curnow.

And if one desires a clear-cut and unbiased view of New Zealand poetry, one will find it in the introductory essay to his recent anthology: his opinion would change.

In the final lines of the essay JKB declared that the poet must remain at odds with conventional society. His opinion would not change.


Dream Series; Hocken, MS-0975/151. Hocken title ‘Notes on Baxter’s dreams’. During his time at the University of Otago JKB read the writings of

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. On 8 April 1945 he wrote to Ginn, ‘You know Jung? In general he is one above Freud in my hierarchy.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/51; Millar 400). On 1 May 1945 JKB informed Ginn that ‘The Sea is the symbol of the collective unconscious. It appeals to all of us to sink into its depths.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/52; Millar 406). He accepted from Jung the notion that the collective unconscious truly existed and that it was different from the merely personal unconscious. In The Fire and the Anvil and other literature he explored a range of Jungian symbols.

The final paragraph of the ‘Dream Series’ note concludes ‘I thought you might be interested in this series, for I imagine one does not often find the dream and its analysis occurring on the same level. I hope to see you in ChCh early next year.’ The document is dated ‘27/10/47’. JKB sent it from his family’s home at Brighton to Grete Christeller, a Jungian psychologist.

Grete Reiche Christeller (1895-1964) was born in Berlin of German-Jewish descent. She trained as a nurse and studied massage in Switzerland page 187 where she also had psychoanalytic training with C.G. Jung. Afterwards she moved to Genoa, Italy, where friends suggested that she move to New Zealand. She arrived in Auckland in 1939 and worked as a Jungian practitioner before moving to Christchurch, where she remained until her death. While in Christchurch she appears to have expanded her field of expertise and recommended to Janet Frame that she have EST treatment at Sunnyside Mental Hospital. Frame accepted her advice. More helpfully, Christeller introduced Frame to the poetry of Rainer-Maria Rilke.

taking heaven by storm’: from Matthew 11.12: ‘Since John the Baptist came, up to this present time, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm.’

The nightmarish elements of his dreams, particularly those relating to sex and castration, to a hostile girlfriend and to the Authorities who tried to impose their will upon him, mirror how he felt about his life.


Enlightenment; in Canta XIX.II (24 Mar. 1948) 5.

Canta: Canterbury University Students’ Association, Christchurch (1930).

The pseudonym JKB uses, ‘Catriona’, is the Gaelic form of ‘Katherine’, which means ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’. It was also the title of an 1893 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson in which the central character David Balfour falls in love with Catriona McGregor Drummond. The fact that they grow apart causes a friend to tell David about women, ‘There’s just the two sets of them – them that would sell their coats for ye, and them that never took the road ye’re on.’ JKB may have chosen his pseudonym for this reason. (The character in the prose poem comes away from his girl ‘filled with the power of knowledge and despair’.)

He signed another piece ‘J.K.B.’ and used the aliases ‘Coriolanus’, ‘Hertzog’ and probably ‘Diletanto’ for other items on the same page. For his remarks about his contributions to Canta and his implied reason for writing under a pseudonym, see ‘Barrage against Bawdiness’.


The Axe – a preview; in Canta XIX.2 (24 Mar. 1948) 4.

It was signed ‘Coriolanus’. The play, produced by John Pocock, was presented in the Little Theatre (later called the Shelley Theatre) by the Drama Society of Canterbury University College on 24, 26 and 27 April. In 1953 it was presented at the Elam Theatre, Auckland University College, with Sidney Musgrove as producer. It was adapted for radio by Curnow and Bernard Kearns and broadcast by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service in 1961 and 1963.

The original performance of The Axe was preceded by ‘a series of mime exercises’. This fact may have influenced JKB in 1967 when he presented plays introduced by mimes. (See No. 450, ‘Baxter Employing Mime Technique’.)

Gaius Martius Coriolanus, a (possibly mythical) Roman general and page 188consul, fell out with the people and was banished from Rome. (JKB was hinting ironically at his own self-banishment to Christchurch.) The life of Coriolanus is recorded in Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans and in Livy’s Ab urbe condita. In 1608 Shakespeare considered his life in a tragedy entitled Coriolanus.


To Wake the Nations Underground; in Canta XIX.8 (7 July 1948) 4. The article is unsigned. JKB had previously attended the Brighton primary school, then (in 1935)

the Friends’ School, a Quaker establishment in Whanganui, followed by a stint at Sibford School, a coeducational Quaker boarding school at Sibford Ferris on the edge of the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire. When the Baxters returned to New Zealand in 1938 he resumed attendance at Brighton Primary and then, in 1939, at the Friends’ School in Whanganui.

In February 1940 he began secondary school at King’s High School, South Dunedin. The nature of the school, its administration, and JKB’s progress there is described in McKay's biography (pp. 48-65). He refers to this school in No. 19, ‘To Wake the Nations Underground’. JKB was an unhappy and reluctant school pupil and his experiences so coloured his opinions on education that in the last article he wrote for publication before his death he excoriated the education system.

Although he did not enrol at Canterbury University College that year he became editor of the literary page of the student newspaper, his contact address being given as ‘any pub’.

The parsons and school-teachers can always find an excuse for making you do what you don’t like doing: see No. 708, ‘Militancy in the Schools’.

the sound of the bugles: while the other pupils did cadet training JKB helped the gardener.


[The Dead House]; in Salient Literary Issue (July 1952) 3, where it appeared untitled as No. 3.

Earlier in MS Book 15, pp. 25-27. An advanced draft is found in a rough notebook, Hocken MS-0975/018.


[In course of conversations]; Hocken MS-0975/018.

In a rough notebook a draft of ‘The Dead House’ is followed by ‘[In course of conversations]’. In turn, this is followed by a draft of a poem entitled ‘The Pious Poet’s Address to His Muse’. After that the young JKB has written the titles of some of stories which he had written or was planning to write:

‘Dear Father and Mother
Story of a suicide, told by someone who knew him. Boy of 16, .22 rifle.
Seagull Blue Peter
page 189 The Man with Wrinkles
Homo, by a boy first meeting one.’

‘Seagull’ (under a different title) and ‘Blue Peter’ are the only two stories which were written or which have survived.

The final literary item in the notebook is a late draft of a poem ‘It was two nights ago I dreamed I came’ (CP 60) which is dated in CP as 1957.

On the last page of the notebook JKB calculates how much is owing to him from a shared debt incurred by himself and five friends. He had paid more than half of the amount and is calculating his reimbursement.

Kay and the Snow Queen: a reference to The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75). The story is centred on Kay, a boy and Gerda, a girl. Kay is stabbed in the heart by a splinter from a bad goblin’s magic mirror and his heart begins to turn into a lump of ice. When the Snow Queen lures him from home. Gerda sets off in search of him. After many adventures she rescues him from the Snow Queen’s palace in the Far North.


Gulls; in Canta XIX.9 (21 July 1948) 4.

Signed ‘Coriolanus’.

Included as No. 2 of the six ‘Prose Poems’ in Salient Literary Issue (July 1952) 4.

Original version in MS Book 15, p. 28. As this piece precedes the other prose poems in the MS Book it was probably completed before them even though it was published after them.

The fact that ‘Gulls’ and the following five items in the MS Book were subsequently numbered by JKB indicates that he was considering grouping them.


[Ex Nihilo]; untitled in Salient Literary Issue (July 1952) p. 7.

Original text entitled ‘Ex Nihilo’ in MS Book 15, pp. 29-30.


[Biography]; untitled in Salient Literary Issue (July 1952) 6. Entitled ‘Biography’ in MS Book 15, p. 31. Included as No. 5 of the six ‘Prose Poems’ in Salient Literary Issue (July 1952) 6.


Pilgrimage; in MS Book 15 pp. 32-33.

This is found in two parts. From the numbering of the stanzas of ‘In Defence’ (p. 32) and ‘Pilgrimage’ (p. 33) it seems that JKB intended to merge these two pieces into a single prose-poem. The second title is chosen for the piece which I have merged. The alternative title may suggest that this is a response to charges levelled against him, probably echoing JKB’s mother,page 190 who accused him of weakness. While admitting that he was guilty of ‘Lies, sloth and drunkenness’ he simultaneously sought for truth, sobriety and independence. Ultimately he rejects his mother’s control, ‘the old lying convention’.


To Accidie; in Canta XIX.8 (7 July 1948) 4.

Entitled ‘Tenebrae’ in MS Book 15, pp. 34-5.

Included as No. 4 of the six ‘Prose Poems’ in Salient Literary Issue (July 1952) 5.

More commonly the mood of moral and physical sluggishness is referred to as ‘acedia’, a term which JKB uses in a later poem to describe ‘the noonday demon’. Bill Pearson later disclosed how he, McCahon and JKB used to talk about various matters including ‘the sin of sloth or despair to which he [JKB] felt especially prone and called by its medieval name accidie.’ (McKay 108).

miners . . . foreign seamen: JKB enjoyed the company of working men. See ‘Manifesto’, his anti-woman diatribe, which follows immediately.


Manifesto; in Canta XIX.8 (7 July 1948) 4.

It is signed ‘Coriolanus’.

The original text is in MS Book 15, p. 36-7.

This piece implicitly vents JKB’s feelings about his mother and young women such as Jane Aylward who rejected his advances during his time at Otago University.


The Furies; in Canta, XIX.8 (7 July 1948) 4.

Original entitled ‘Eumenides’ in MS Book 15, pp. 38-39.

Included as No. 1 of the six ‘Prose Poems’ in Salient Literary Issue (July 1952) 3.

The fact that it was immediately preceded by ‘The Cave’, a poem written by JKB in 1948, permits these prose poems to be dated. ‘Eumenides’ was published as ‘The Furies’ in Canta XIX.8 (7 July 1948) 4. Oresteia is a trilogy by Aeschylus about a curse on the House of Atreus. The first two plays are Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers. The third is entitled The Eumenides. Orestes has already killed his mother Clytaemestra for killing his father and has been punished by being tormented by the Erinyes or Furies. In The Eumenides Orestes appears before a court in Athens where it is to be decided whether his punishment is appropriate. This is likely to be a further self-reference in which JKB implies that his mother has overwhelmed his father and attacked himself. See his anti-woman diatribe in ‘Manifesto’, a prose-poem in this series.

‘The Furies’ was signed ‘Candide’. Candide: or All for the Best was the title of the 1759 translation into English of Voltaire’s picaresque satirical novella (also 1759) about a young man who left a paradisal environment, where he had lived by a philosophy of optimism. As a consequence of this change hepage 191 endured great hardships in the world. Voltaire ridiculed the philosophy of optimism taught by Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), German philosopher and mathematician. ‘Voltaire’ was the pseudonym of FranÇois-Marie Arouet (1694-1776) a writer and philosopher of the French Enlightenment. JKB’s pseudonym conveys a self-reference as he also rejected a philosophy of optimism.

‘The Furies’ was subsequently republished in Salient Literary Issue (July 1952) 3. When the four prose poems were republished in Salient they were accompanied by a fifth prose poem entitled ‘Once I had no body’. See No. 24, [Biography].

rowan branch: in Celtic literature the rowan branch was a symbol of safekeeping and protective energy.


When the Wind Blows; this week’s profile – Frank Sargeson; in Canta XIX.8 (7 July 1948) 6.

There is a cutting of this review among the Sargeson papers (432/503). Michael King quoted an extract from it in his biography of Sargeson but was unable to date it.

Bill Pearson, editor of Canta in the year that JKB edited the literary page, recalled how ‘Pale, coughing and hung over he knocked up Lawrence Baigent at six one Sunday morning, asked for a bottle of milk and sat down to write, without need for revision, a piece on Frank Sargeson that was overdue for Canta.’ (LF 2.1 [Autumn, 1973] 4).

On 25 May 1944 JKB told Ginn, ‘Have read Sargeson, who strikes me as able but of a style and plotting too cut-down for this NZ society: Europeans have to prune their material; we have to build it up.’ (VUW Library, MS McKay 28/42; Millar 358).

Frank Sargeson (1903-82) was born in Hamilton as Norris Frank Davey (see SB). JKB must have consulted Sargeson about this article because he wrote that ‘He has requested that this profile should concern itself with his writings rather than his personal activities.’ Sargeson’s homosexuality explains why he made this request. Even so JKB remarks that some might disagree with ‘the large place which sexual perversion plays in his work’. It is at least ironic that JKB’s article on Sargeson, a homosexual who wrote stories about men and their relationships, was published in the same issue of Canta as his diatribe against women.

JKB approved of the tenderness of the man-to-man relationship in That Summer but criticised the loose structural arrangement of When the Wind Blows. He proved to be on the mark when he said that it was unsuccessful as a novel but that it had the raw material for one because Sargeson worked on it, expanded it, and reissued the whole in 1949 as I Saw in my Dream.

William Saroyan (1908-81) was an American of Armenian descent, a short-story writer, novelist and dramatist. His writing is often sentimentalpage 192 and usually benevolent and his plays do not follow the convention that conflict is required for drama.

a country made for plants and birds rather than for mammals: much later JKB would describe New Zealand as ‘a country made for angels, not for men’ (‘Ferry from Lyttelton’, CP 571).

John Lehman . . . French translation: JKB conflated two separate matters. The French edition of That Summer was published in June 1946 by Editions du Bateau Ive as Cet Été-là (translated by Jeanne Fournier-Pargoire). In October Lehmann published That Summer and Other Stories; it had nineteen additional stories.


The White Gull; Hocken-MS-0975/143.

Although this piece is undated it appears that one version was written in 1941 (see following note) when JKB was aged fifteen or sixteen, but revised as the current version in 1948. Details suggest that it was written before the item which follows. Almost every year the Baxters spent part of their summer holiday camping in Otago and, according to Millicent Baxter, their favourite resort was Lake Ohau.

He was a little afraid of that lean-faced saturnine man: an indication that JKB was ‘a little afraid’ of his highly moral, reticent father.

In the prose poem ‘Gulls’ JKB wrote that gulls represented ‘symbols of an undivided being’. So this story is a symbolic statement of his fatal role in the death of innocence and integrity.


Before Sunrise [3]; in Canta XIX.9 (21 July 1948) 6.

Signed ‘Hertzog’.

The Hocken Library copy MS-0975/142) subtitled ‘A description’ is annotated ‘c. 1941’. It is likely that the published version was revised in 1948 from an intermediate draft. VUW Library, MS McKay 28/50 includes a second (extended) draft, probably written in 1944, which JKB included in a letter to Ginn dated 18 March 1944. This draft precedes the version published in Canta.

JKB probably adopted the pseudonym ‘Hertzog’ to honour the South African statesman James Barry Munnik Hertzog (1866-1942) who trained as a lawyer before becoming a successful guerrilla general during the Boer War. A staunch republican, he headed the nationalist movement and was prime minister from 1924 until he was deposed by his party in 1939 for wanting to keep South Africa neutral during World War Two. JKB would have approved of his anti-militarism.


Stone Lions; Hocken, MS-0975/146. An earlier title in draft is ‘Sweet Goodbye’. The protagonist of the story is eighteen; JKB turned eighteen during hispage 193 year at the University of Otago.

possie: slang for ‘position’.

Some features of the writing echo Sargeson.


Salvation Army Aesthete?; in Canta XIX.9 (21 July 1948) 4.

Colin [John] McCahon (1919-87) was born and educated in Dunedin where JKB knew him. (Peter Entwisle’s entry on Rodney Kennedy in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography states that Kennedy lived for a time in a flat in Bath Street where JKB and McCahon also lived.) Because of a health condition McCahon was exempted from military service during World War Two. He married in 1942. In the following year he was so affected by his first intimate meeting with JKB that he memorialised the occasion by a small painting entitled A CANDLE in a Dark ROOM.

In 1948 McCahon moved to Christchurch with his wife and three children. JKB moved there in the same year. Soon afterwards JKB, Bill Pearson and McCahon became friends and drinking companions, spending long sessions in the United Services Hotel in Cathedral Square. McKay disclosed that McCahon told him that the title of this article came from a remark which JKB made to him when they passed a hoarding outside a Salvation Army Citadel – ‘Your painting’s like that’ (McKay 108). But the article says that McCahon, not JKB, made the statement.

Sometime in the 1950s, after 1952, when McCahon finished painting There is only one direction (its subject was Mary and her wayward young son Jesus) he gave it to JKB. The title implies that both men, like Jesus, were compelled to live out their vocations.

Pearson recalled their conversations, including the fact that

. . . the times which in our memory had seen Stalin’s purges, world war, Guernica, Belsen and Hiroshima offered neither peace nor likelihood of accommodating the idealist hopes we thought we had lost. We remembered Darkness at Noon, and read Graham Greene, talking in terms no longer in vogue of natural man and original sin and of eros and agape and caritas and the sin of sloth or despair to which he felt especially prone and called by its medieval name accidie. The truths that we were finding out were old ones, and humbling: that the seed of oppression and violence lay in the nature that we had in common with other men, and a recognition of the supreme value of compassionate love – truths that explain the compassion Baxter could feel not only for the victims of authority but for its agents. We were drawn to the security and conviction that religious orthodoxy offered, envying the Middle Ages their simplicity of belief. (McKay 108)

considerable controversy: JKB is obviously not comfortable writing about individual paintings, but his real purpose may be to defend a friend whose work was often criticised. Glover did not like either McCahon or his art. Fairburn described the cartoon element in some of McCahon’s paintings aspage 194 ‘graffiti on the walls of some celestial lavatory’ (‘Art in Canterbury’, Landfall 2, no. 1, Mar. 1948, 50). In the previous December he told Brasch that he was unwilling to write an article for LF about McCahon’s work in that year’s Group Show:

The McCahons in the Group Show were deplorable. I felt embarrassed. He has a talent, I suspect – judging by what I have heard, not what I’ve seen. But these things in the Show were merely pretentious humbug, masquerading as homespun simplicity. Looked at from any possible angle, they had no merit whatever. I thought then not merely unmeritorious, but positively vicious. I do hope you’re not putting those in Landfall. They will annoy the middlebrows or whatever you like to call them. And they will annoy the people of judgment also. I suppose a few arty people will find them ‘interesting’. That is, if you publish them: but I pray that you will not. (Fairburn, Letters, 177-8).

Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) painted ‘The Temptation of St Anthony’ about 1500. Preoccupied with human sinfulness and torment, Bosch included symbolic elements, including odd or fantastic creatures such as a man with a thistle for a head, which invest his painting with a surrealistic, even nightmarish, force. JKB may have learned from McCahon about the connection between his work and that of Bosch.

John Summers (1916-93) later became a well-known Christchurch bookseller, art critic and poet. His early essay ‘Catacombs to Ngatimoti’, was published in Student 3 (May, 1946) 5, a journal of the Student Christian Movement. See SB.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), a German, was a painter and print-maker. His pioneering landscape paintings were, as JKB observed, notable for their accuracy. But JKB did not remark that Dürer and McCahon shared an interest in religious subjects.


Dylan Thomas and the Lit. Club; in Canta XIX.9 (21 July 1948) 4.

Report by K.I.M. of a lecture given by JKB to the Literary Club of Canterbury University College on 13 July 1948.

All three thousand copies of the first edition of Deaths and Entrances (1946) were sold within four weeks.


Barrage against Bawdiness; in Canta XIX.10 (4 Aug. 1948) 4.

JKB was author of ‘Gulls’, one of the works criticised. As literary editor, he was sometimes criticised for using the journal to advertise his own accomplishments.


Bolshies under the Bed; in Canta XIX.11 (18 Aug. 1948) 4.

the Royal Visit: early in 1948 it was announced that a royal tour of New Zealand was to occur in 1949. The tour party was to include King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Because of the King’s ill healthpage 195 the visit was cancelled on 23 November 1948.

Archibald Baxter admired Lawson’s socialism and use of the ballad form. He introduced his young son to Lawson’s poetry and JKB came to love him in turn. See No. 128, ‘A Note on Henry Lawson’. Henry Lawson (1867-1922) was brought up by unhappily married parents and was particularly influenced by his mother who became politically involved with women’s issues. She edited a newspaper for women readers and published his first book of poetry. In 1896 he married the daughter of a prominent socialist but his marriage was an unhappy one. While the Billy Boils, his short story collection published that year, is regarded as one of the great books of Australian literature. He campaigned against ‘Banjo’ Paterson and other romantics who did not portray true suffering in the community: his story ‘The Drover’s Wife’ is an outstanding example of his grim realism. He was perennially poor, reduced to begging, drank too much and was jailed for drunkenness and not paying alimony. In 1894 he worked briefly in New Zealand as a telegraph linesman, after he was originally drawn here by the prospect of editing a newspaper. He returned in 1897 and worked for a short time as a school-teacher in Mangamaunu, a small settlement north of Kaikoura. He was newly married and his wife wanted them to live in a remote place to try to break his developing alcoholism but they both became unhappy as a result of isolation, loneliness, difficulties in their marriage and conflict with local Māori. They withdrew to Wellington for a few months, where their son was born. Then they returned to Australia. He never again visited ‘Toadyland’ where he felt he had been exiled.

Cockie: originally an abbreviation of ‘cockatoo’, a wild bird of the parrot order Psittaciformes. Large flocks of them often feed on seeds, corn, fruit and flowers. In regions of Australia where pastoral farming was practised the word was applied to the proprietors of small agricultural holdings who descended in large numbers upon developing areas. They were known, ironically, as ‘cockyfarmers’ or ‘cockies’.

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941), Australian nationalist and poet, wrote romantic verse featuring the lives of workers in the outback. Three of his ‘bush ballads’ which became especially popular were ‘Waltzing Matilda’, ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and ‘Clancy of the Overflow’. JKB realised that Paterson did not have the level of social concern that Lawson had.