Title: Indirections: A Memoir 1909-1947

Author: Charles Brasch

Publication details: Oxford University Press, 1980, Wellington

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Alan Roddick

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Indirections: A Memoir 1909-1947

Chapter Seventeen — On the Eve — 41

page 332

Chapter Seventeen
On the Eve

in the boat train from Plymouth, England unfolded before me like a Chinese scroll painting, delicate, soothing in the softness and intimacy of its richly-green fields, trees, hedges, as reassuring as the quiet smooth-running train. The Abbey trees were marvellously full, beech and copper beech, elm, cedar; their stillness seemed to enfold the world. But a hot summer had dried up the stream, whose bed beyond the lawn was only a hollow of caked mud. It seemed fitting as Lissie prepared to leave the Abbey. The rent was too heavy; she was losing money fast. Either she must find a cheaper house, or bring the school to an end.

She had advertised for a house, and we drove a lot about the country looking at every one that sounded at all likely. The most suitable was one at Grayshott, near Hindhead, and although neither of us liked that heather and pine country, we were forced to try for it. Meanwhile school went on as usual. I was teaching the senior girls English, French, Latin, history, geography and biology — everything except maths. The life engulfed me again as if I had hardly been away.

During our last three months at the Abbey several children left. To lose many children at once was a serious matter financially, unless others came to replace them — and some did come. Lissie felt too that it put all her work in question, and again and again asked if she should not give up the school.

Hitler made me keenly conscious, intermittently, that I was of Jewish descent and that Nazis, Mosleyites and their kind must hate me as such and want to kill me. So, I supposed, the Scottish nationalist movement must make New Zealanders of Scottish descent conscious of their origins, and troubles in Ireland affect page 333New Zealanders of Irish descent. I loved the Old Testament, or parts of it. The Gospels drew me like a chant, a haunting plainsong groundbass sounding continuously behind and within daily life and history. I took a certain relish in being descended from Aaron and so able to consider Moses an uncle. It pleased me too that I might claim kinship of a sort with Montaigne, Spinoza, Heine, Pissarro, Buber, Kakfa. But I felt as close or closer to many others who were no such kin, from Piero and Bellini to Wordsworth and Shelley.

All through September international tension had grown intolerably. The Spanish Republic was fighting for life, Britain and France conniving at its defeat. Hitler was threatening Czechoslovakia, demanding what he called Sudetenland; he threatened to mobilize for war if Britain and France continued to support the Czechs. Every day and night, whenever we were sitting talking in Lissie's white room, the trains seemed to rush past faster, as if in a race against time, which screwed up our nerves more and more tightly. Lissie expected conscription. We feared to be caught without a house. Then came the announcement that Chamberlain was to meet Hitler next day in Munich, with Daladier and Mussolini, which gave us an immediate sense of immense relief. That evening the friendly policeman from Great Missenden brought us a sample gas mask, showed us how to wear it, and told us how to fit up a gas-proof room. Next day Chamberlain abandoned Czechoslovakia, that far-away country of whose people we know nothing. Relief was overwhelmed by shame, and shame brought back fear. England had one ally less; we were worse off than before.

Of my friends, only John Crockett felt no immediate relief over Munich; following communist opinion, and naturally pessimistic, he thought our hope false. Colin and I had agreed that there were no good courses of action open to us, all the alternatives being bad, but he would fight, he said hopelessly, if war came. Jack thought the situation like that of 1914 again; he would not fight in an imperialist war against German workers, with no guarantee of better conditions at the end. I was swayed by every opinion, and held none firmly for long. James alone (he had reached England some weeks after me) seemed to be untouched by the paralysis of horror that in one way or another page 334affected us all — he felt the horror, but did not allow it to inhibit him; facing it, he still felt free to act. He hoped to return to north-west China by way of Russia and the Turk-Sib Railway, but first wanted to write the novel he had in mind — I think it was well worked out — a contemporary novel conceived perhaps in the light of Malraux's La Condition Humaine.

John Crockett had left before my return to the Abbey. He had found a good room in town, looking onto the trees of quiet Camden Square, among people he liked. He was painting alone in the house all day long, and in the evening dancing with a ballet group. The Abbey had somehow helped to free him. He, Colin, Jack, Leonie too, were all continuing the world. One must go on, trotzdem, in spite of everything.

The school moved at last early in December. We had thought we could never leave Lissie's white curved room. It seemed filled with the air of so many lives, its every detail meant so much to us, its charm assuaged us. It above all was the Abbey. Grayshott was a different world.

We could not have moved at a worse time. The weather was very cold. The servants engaged did not turn up, so that Lissie and the girls had to do all the cooking and housework; besides, Lissie feared that no servants would stay in so isolated a house. The water supply from springs down the valley was not working properly and we were short of water; as the weather grew colder, the pipes threatened to burst. The kitchen stove proved too small, and was very slow at boiling kettles; after ten days, the children were getting fed up with late meals of one course only — those most of all who had to get up early and struggle with the stove. Then it began to snow; three inches surrounded the house one day, six inches the next; it lay for ten days. Most of the children went home for Christmas, but we were still about ten in all, so that Lissie had no respite. When the children started coming back, before new year, servants arrived at last, and well after the new year a secretary. The school soon returned to normal, to the normal of its new home. But there were still not enough children. Would it be able to pay its way?

About six weeks after I got back to England, there was bad news of Lel. Her relations with my father had become very page 335difficult again, which made her nervous and ill, so much so that a fresh abscess had formed in her old wound. She decided that she must return to London to the doctors who knew her, McCarron and Hunter; she asked Mary to consult them. It seemed that her recovery had been only apparent, and that she was now seriously ill again. I foresaw a recurrence of the same desperate round, with little hope of her getting better in the end. I was afraid for her, and apprehensive for myself: I would have to give myself up to looking after her once more, indefinitely. If there was clear hope of her recovering, well and good. But what hope could there be with the doctors who had failed before, as it was now clear they had?

She came to England, and had to be brought from Southampton to town by ambulance. All this time I was travelling up and down from Grayshott, teaching there, staying with John Crockett in town, seeing Mary, James, other people. Lissie went away at last for a short holiday. At Grayshott the wind blew fiercely. Snow fell again. Lel was better and worse day by day; sometimes she could not see even Mary. Now she was sunk in pain, now more alert and able to talk, but we did not talk very much — she had not the strength and I was afraid and remorseful. Mary's birthday fell a few days later, and Lel asked me to buy Mary a present from her. In my cold confused state, not daring to feel, I said distantly that I would think about it. I did not forget. Lel had several haemorrhages, she was given a blood transfusion. Since her wound had to be dressed under anaesthetic, it could not be dressed as often as necessary; the poison from it spread. In less than three weeks after reaching England, she died.

London was dark and cold. The Spanish Republic was dying, Barcelona fell the same week. Three days later, Yeats died, the greatest English poet since Wordsworth, as I believed. It was the worst time I had ever known.

When I went back to Grayshott, Lissie was to meet me in her car at Haslemere. But missing the train I missed her too, and had to walk up between snowy fields in the pale night, under a struggling moon. Because we failed to meet then, we did not meet at all, properly speaking. Lissie did not ask me one question page 336in the next few days, nor make any allusion to Lel's death. I could not have talked without prompting from her, so I kept my thoughts to myself. Now Lissie seemed wholly taken up with the school, the new staff and children, Robert; she had lost interest in me, I felt. Well, I was a teacher, not a child. But still, this indifference was new. It was not the Abbey.

Two of the girls whom I was near to soon felt, independently, with their extraordinary intuition, that I was thinking of leaving. Later, when I put it to Lissie, she agreed that I should go at the end of the term. We were cool, but not bitter. She was able to replace me without difficulty. It is strange that I can remember Grayshott today only from photographs of the outside of the house. Of the inside I have no recollection except for a vague picture of my own room at the top of the house. Lissie's room had an open fireplace which was able to burn big logs, otherwise it has completely vanished from my memory. Of the surroundings too I remember nothing. No one ever refers to the school except as the Abbey.

I went to live in a cottage on the north Wiltshire downs which I rented from friends of James's. Bishop's Barn was built in the seventeenth or even sixteenth century of red brick and a steep roof of red tiles. It stood on flat upland surrounded by grass and wild flowers and tall flowering weeds; a few thin pine-trees grew nearby, elder bushes, an oak or two. The only house near was a row of labourers' cottages a few hundred yards away. Hungerford was the nearest town, Oxford about thirty miles north, London almost sixty east. There I spent an early summer of extraordinary beauty, read and wrote, walked and drove about the country with friends. The terror that hung over us made the beauty of the country and the shining weather almost unbearably poignant. Everything we knew and loved glittered and trembled as if about to vanish for ever —

All things hang like a drop of dew Upon a blade of grass.

James returned to China. He felt a bird of passage in England, which he had never really liked, and now spoke of almost with page 337hatred. He saw no chance for it politically, the wrong people so strongly entrenched in power. After a miserable distracted winter of living with little money in poor boarding houses and going from place to place speaking for the Left Book Club, he was bitter and wanted never to come back. Politics was his religion, Iris Wilkinson remarked to me; change time and circumstances and he would be a Presbyterian minister like his father. After he had waited for months, the Russians refused to allow him to travel by the Turk-Sib railway, so he had to decide to go by sea. He took passage from Marseilles on the Président Doumer, hoping to see Ian's journalist brother Hugh Milner in Singapore; he might go on to Hong Kong, or through Siam over the Burma Road to Yunnan and Chungking.

One day while we were walking from Richmond to Hampton Court in hazy sunlight along the Thames he suggested, rather lightly, that I should go to China too, and perhaps work as librarian at Yenan, which Agnes Smedley had done for a time. I hardly considered it. He could leave England easily, gladly, but I felt too closely identified with it to be able to leave for long. Politics was not everything, although it might decide our lives. The British Government, the present ruling powers, represented only one face of England. They were dominant then, but might not be dominant always. The England I knew seemed to me more lasting, more deeply founded if less showy and noisy; the England that spoke through Chaucer and Langland, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, Hardy, Lawrence, Forster, sceptical contentious men, visionaries, realists, idealists. If subdued now, it was still alive, it would speak again, and make its voice heard.

At the beginning of 1939, James had taken me to meet Iris Wilkinson. After being caught in the war in China and managing to escape battered and ill, she was now in the Middlesex Hospital. I knew of her as the novelist Robin Hyde, as a journalist, as a writer of lush romantic verse, a gifted adventurous rather reckless temperamental New Zealander. In hospital she was writing about her experiences in China. Later she was moved for emergency treatment to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases; she was threatening to walk out at any moment, which might have meant the end of her. James worked through the galleys of her book with her; it was a wearing business, because page 338every detail had to be argued — Iris could not believe that she had misspelt a name or confused one person or place with another; I saw James's patience wearing very thin.

When Iris was getting better, I took her driving round Hampstead Heath one afternoon. We had become friends; I liked her, was interested in the new poems she was writing, and felt anxious about her, as James was. After he left England and she was discharged from hospital and needed rest and quiet and good food, she came to stay with me at Bishop's Barn. It was a time of summer warmth and deep stillness, the afternoon air hazy and sweet.

On fine days I took a table outside for Iris to work at. She had a weekly or fortnightly article to write for some journal or other — she wrote it straight on to her typewriter; from that came her sole regular income. I remember she wrote for the New Zealand Railways Magazine, which surprised me — I did not know of it and it sounded so unlikely to be hospitable to literary work. But Iris had had to live as a journalist; her early verse in its jaunty facility, thick with the cliches of a literariness she was never able to strip away completely, was a form of journalism; she was now slowly schooling herself to write more honestly and directly out of experience. I doubt whether I had read any of her novels then; but Passport to Hell, as I recall it, was still the work of a capable journalist, not of an imaginative writer. Iris was of course bound by her material, by the story 'Starkie' told her. And Starkie, as the book showed him, was a man to whom terrible things happened (the story was one of wartime brutality and horror) who yet seemed not to experience them, because no awakening of his heart or mind through them was apparent; they were so terrible perhaps they deadened him. Experience in itself, clearly, has no value, is neutral; what crushes one man utterly may brutalize another, refine a third; it is what men make of experience imaginatively, spiritually, that gives it value.

Journalism is concerned with facts and situations, not with what the heart and mind make of them. While the best journalism, trying with scrupulous honesty and objectivity to be no more than it is, may sometimes become literature, journalism that neglects its own virtues in trying to be literary usually succeeds only in being bad journalism. Dragon Rampant, Iris's book page 339about China (she was then reading page-proofs of it), both gained and lost, I thought, from being written so close to the events; it gave a sharp picture of what she saw and what happened to her but again that was good reporting, not more; the events had not been allowed to mature in memory, as indeed the showy title indicated — but that was not hers. Her best new poems on the other hand, the Chinese as well as the New Zealand ones, showed what memory made of experience more fully lived, showed her at last becoming a poet, which was exciting and moving to see. We talked over these poems in the still evenings by the fire. Iris was revising and arranging them, she asked my opinion, and I made cautiously some detailed comment which I think she found to the point. I made no doubt of my enjoyment of the poems, the New Zealand ones especially, because here was an authentic part of New Zealand, her own Wellington childhood, caught fresh in her own way. She was going to call the poems 'Houses by the Sea'.*

One needed caution with Iris. It was easy to say the wrong thing and offend or hurt her in a way that might upset her balance, precarious now after her terrible months in China. Yet when well and hopeful she loved the world and her friends and was gay and amusing and ready with bantering talk. I used to tease her about her New Zealand bleat, her 'yes' a long-drawnout 'yee-ee-ee-ee-s' as if she had lived all her life with sheep. She was surprised, rather disbelieving, and not displeased, but laughed, properly defiant. She did not look a shepherdess or pastoral or out-of-doors New Zealander. Her milky-pale freckled skin looked as if it would burn badly in strong sun; her pale gingerish hair was close to it in colour, and her pale-blue half-surprised eyes seemed to belong to a world of pale sunlight or even not to have seen the sun; her teeth protruded a little; she smiled frankly and trustfully, yet a little hesitant as she faced you.

After a few days she went back to town. She was turning her novel Wednesday's Children into a play for the actor-managers Phyllis Neilson-Terry and Heron Carvic. They had offered her the use of their flat for three weeks; there she would be closer to theatre people while working on the adaptation. She had talked a lot about this, now hopeful and now depressed. It was an

* Not published in New Zealand until 1952

page 340exciting project; it might make her name, might also make money for her. The summer spell broke in cold and rain while Iris was in town. When she returned to Bishop's Barn, summer came again.

When Jack and Edith Bennett visited us, Iris was in a nervy unpredictable state of mind. I felt very reluctant to leave her even for a couple of hours to fetch them, and drove to Oxford and back as fast as I could. We talked of a return to New Zealand. Iris too wanted to go back, but only after a second visit to China. She had fallen in love with that country, both really and romantically, and was determined to see more of it. Fearing for her health, James had tried to dissuade her, but once a notion took hold of her she was headstrong. Jack and Edith had now decided to sail for Auckland on the Mataroa early in June, spend two months there (Jack was to lecture at the university), and return in time for the Michaelmas term in October. It seemed a prospecting journey.

The exquisite beauty of the summer seemed to hold out hopes and expectations of the kind the world never fulfils. Iris was both buoyed up by hope of the success of her play and, as negotiations dragged on, deeply apprehensive that the whole thing would come to nothing and the play never be put on. Kept in suspense, she felt dreadfully insecure, and in desperate need of support. After Jack and Edith left, she suddenly turned to me for closer comfort and reassurance. But physically she repelled me; I could not respond more than in friendship. Feeling slighted and rejected, she went upstairs, lay down, and swallowed half a bottle of her sleeping draught - all that was left of it. Next day, half doped and aching, she slept most of the day, which was wet and miserable. At night, after she had bathed, I took her up a hot water bottle and suddenly she said to me 'Shall I shock you?' I shrugged, she pulled up the sleeve of her dressing gown and showed a huge open gash in her left arm, one of several gashes made with a razor-blade of mine in the bath. She had just missed a vein, and bled profusely, but tried to hide all traces of blood in the bathroom — not very successfully. She had often mentioned cutting herself like this when miserable. I had not disbelieved her, because friends had told me of her earlier attempts to injure or kill herself. Still I wondered, thinking of Sybil at the page 341Abbey, if in this case at least she had cut herself to impress and frighten me. Luckily I was able to appear cool.

The day after, she was to go to stay with Jack and Edith. Although wretched and weak from loss of blood and the continued effect of the sleeping draught, she insisted on getting up at midday and trying to pack, but then felt so miserable she lost control and abused me and wept. Quiet at one point, she said deliberately, almost reflectively, 'I don't care what I do to anybody, or what anybody does to me.' I had to believe that was true. After a time, unexpectedly her rage passed. I persuaded her to stay another day. And then she was herself again, quiet and sensible.

Insecurity was affecting all of us. No, not all. Some like John were anxious and pessimistic but so fully absorbed in work they loved that to some degree they were able to exorcise anxiety through it. Colin's work too, which would go on, offered him ballast if not anchorage. Others were so deeply rooted in life that its masterful stream would bear them on through almost any imaginable upheaval, whatever they might suffer. Bettina Hamilton was of these. She now had three children, born in five years, who commanded her whole life. I was appalled that she had to spend so much of her time in kitchen and laundry, but in everything she did her love was at work, and the children were always with her or near her.

She and Archie had bought their house at Badger's Mount, a straggling characterless settlement on the North Downs a mile or so south of Knockholt station, above Shoreham. The mean, cheaply built, cramped little suburban house of two storeys was entirely out of place in a big garden bounded by fields and woods. From it, Badger's Mount was mercifully hidden; you saw only the fields and woods going down to the valley of the Darent, and other wooded slopes and ridges beyond, only a roof or two nearby at the edge of the settlement. North, south and east stretched miles of woodland, chalk and flint downs, flinty fields. Oak and beech, hazel, horse chestnut, big trees here and there, the woods were only a ghost of their former selves probably but fresh, beautiful, free; you might walk through them where you wished, and seldom meet anyone. Hideous as their house was, Bettina and Archie could hardly have chosen a better page 342setting within reach of London; Charing Cross was only eighteen miles away and Archie, now a consulting engineer, got up and down by train easily. The children should be able to grow up almost as free as in New Zealand. *

Knowing how Lel's death must shake my father, if it did not shatter him, I soon decided that I ought to go and see him. Heavy with remorse, I felt it would be at least a gesture of atonement, and possibly some comfort to him; he was already sixty-five. He offered to come part of the way to meet me, to Honolulu, and we could then return to New Zealand together. I did not know what I would do.

Bettina and her kind, rare and yet universal, would live for ever, and when cut down spring up again like oak-tree and anemone; human kind and earth itself could not do without them. But no other of my friends belonged in the same way to the main stream of life, nearly all were vulnerable and might be crushed in a moment. The one I feared for most was Leonie Zuntz, impulsive, tender, her laughter always near to tears, her strength as light as her violin's and as easy to break; alone, for her mother would not be with her indefinitely, and having to suffer the extra disability of being counted a foreigner. She came several times to stay at Bishop's Barn, and one week-end we made an expedition to see Così Fan Tutte at Glyndebourne.

Why did Mozart express that time better than any other composer, better than any writer or painter? Because no one has evoked as he does that sense of civilization, of music, of life itself, poised over the abyss, of beauty, youth, refinement, passion and despair, longing and ecstasy, all present and all about to vanish. Così with its two well-matched couples is more artificial than his other operas, but its feeling and passion and beauty are genuine, timeless, so that one can lose oneself in them. Glyndebourne is a fitter setting for Mozart than any town opera house, even Salzburg. The garden that summer was as timeless and as vulnerable in its moment of perfection as the music itself; alleys of lawn walled by yew hedges, flower-beds here of white, there of purple or yellow, yet without the least formality or artificiality; ripe old brick walls, lime-trees and ilexes, the lake with its floating water-lilies; the great lawn bounded by an

* See poem 'Badger's Mount' in Ambulando

page 343unnoticed ha-ha and at once becoming meadow where cattle graze and full-bosomed trees lead one's eye on and on in the warm late light, nature leading into art, art leading back to nature.

In a sense hard to describe Joy Scovell seemed, not above the battle, because it darkened her life too, but close to it yet outside. Her purity of spirit and vision in its essential simplicity was not sullied by the evil of the time and its burden of trivialities. Possibly the sheer anguish of the time helped to isolate, clarify and sharpen her vision, to give her poems their especial poignancy.

This is heaven, the winter park they walk in,
Dissolution over, stars with leaves fallen,
The year corrupted away: it is full winter.

Father, child and mother walk in heaven,
Soberly in the mist, the tranquil heart
Of winter, arms linked or hands fallen coldly.

With her husband Charles Elton, outwardly so like her, Joy would perhaps survive whatever might come, but silenced I feared by suffering; enduring as rocks and trees do the pressure of all natural and man-made changes. We agreed one day that to write single short unrelated poems was unsatisfactory; we wanted to write groups of poems on a single theme, that would express the whole of our experience. Joy's poems of that time and later are indeed closely related, in tone and in outlook; her work is all of a piece. Mine were more various and occasional and seemed to me to have little relation one to another, which I found troubling.

It was about then at Bishop's Barn that I wrote my first real poem, one that begins 'Always, in these islands' (it needed a lot of revision before the clean lines of the idea of the poem which I was feeling for at length emerged), * and a few others that belonged with it; poems about New Zealand, now threatened also, with everything and everybody I knew. Most friends who read them thought these poems much better than any others I had written. It was late enough, if I was ever going to write well;

* The final form Brasch gave this poem is to be found in Vincent O'Sullivan's Anthology of Twentieth Century New Zealand Poetry (first edn 1970), p. 74.

page 344I was nearly thirty, and nothing yet to show for my life. If the coming war killed me, I might as well never have existed.

To show no fear of the future is perhaps only possible when you are young and strong and propelled by inward energy that not only colours but actually shapes the outer world for you. Tim Thompson was one who showed no fear and he had imagination enough, which went with undirected and undisciplined thinking, and common sense and capability in practical matters — an unusual combination: he was at once airily romantic and coolly down-to-earth. Almost every one was drawn to him; he was responsible and trustworthy in practical affairs, so that practical men liked working with him, even if they thought him a little touched. He had given up trying to pass matriculation, and with it his notion of becoming a doctor like his father, and following his strongest inclination had gone to sea. He arrived in London on the Imperial Star, full of enthusiasm for the sea and his work as a seaman and keen to be off again; he would clearly make an excellent sailor. He loved not only the beauty but the danger of the sea, confident that a good seaman can meet it; he wanted to know all its moods, even its terrors, from pole to tropic. I could only wonder at such intrepidity.

John Crockett's life too was as different as possible from mine, but we belonged to the same world, spoke the same language. I used to stay with him in his room at Camden Square, he came more than once to Bishop's Barn. From there we saw together much of Dorset, Wiltshire, and Somerset, the heart of southern England. Coastal Dorset is severe, austere, with long sweeping lines, bold cliffs of white chalk or dark oolite, sudden scooped-out coves in which you half expect to find giant rounded boulders rolling about with shattering noise like huge playthings of the wind or the sea. To the east are the Isle of Purbeck, Corfe (I did not know that Frances Hodgkins was painting there), Lulworth. Of the last not long after I was lucky enough to find an early water-colour by David Jones, painted before he took lessons with Frances Hodgkins when both were members of the Seven and Five; its forms have broken out of the stiffness of his Capel-y-ffin work but not yet achieved the fluid freedom towards which, it seems, Frances Hodgkins helped him.

John too was a dancer. He and James and I had gone to see page 345a troupe of Javanese dancers, and he now belonged to a dance-drama group formed by Margaret Barr, a pupil of the famous Martha Graham. They worked on the South Bank near South-wark Bridge in an old house — they shared it with a left-wing theatre group called Labour Stage — made more derelict by the explosion of an i.r.a. bomb. To Margaret Barr dancing was not only an end in itself but a form of political activity, a means of uniting people in opposition to war, to Nazism, to imperialism. She was strongly pro-communist, pro-Russian, as John then was. A few years later she and her husband went to live in Auckland and formed a group of dancers there. John proposed that I write a scenario for a ballet; the group was always looking for new work; and had I been staying near I might have attempted one.

On my last day in England I went again to see Iris Wilkinson. She was living in an attic in Notting Hill, at I Pembridge Square, a fair-sized room airless under the roof on a hot afternoon, smelling very bad and in general disorder. She was unwell, on the verge of being hysterical, with little hope of her play reaching the stage. She did not ask for help or hope and there was none I could have offered her. I felt dry and drained, with nothing useful to say, and thought Iris probably resented my comfortable freedom while she was so desperately poor.

For two months I heard nothing of her. Early in September, in Honolulu, I saw in the New York Times a cable from London dated 23 August reporting that Iris 'is dead here from gas poisoning'. That was a shock, but hardly a surprise; I took it to be suicide. I assumed that plans for her play had finally fallen through, and that she was then too poor to go to China again as she so longed to. I felt some remorse that I had not done more for her. I hoped that she was not hurt, if she saw it, by a cool notice of Dragon Rampant I had written for Tomorrow, and that she had received a friendly letter I had written her lately. It seemed as well that she had escaped the war, in her state of mind; but no, that was too meanly prudential a thought — however neurotic, she ought to be alive, experiencing, writing; she had gifts of value to the world; her death was an appalling waste. The world could not spare those of its gifted children to whom it had proved too cruel - I was thinking of others who had page 346killed themselves in despair in this hopeless time, Toller, Gertler.*

The war so long feared had started a few days before. At the last moment I had had some hope that it might be averted after all. The Russian-German non-aggression pact at the end of August, so horrifying to all those in the west who idealized Russia and communism or at least hoped that Russia would be more honest and reliable politically than the capitalist states, seemed to make war unthinkable because the odds against France and England would be too great. But England was not as fearful and spiritless as I was, after all its pusillanimity for years past. I knew at once that I could not go on to New Zealand. Jack and Edith were now in Auckland, and Ian, I learned soon after, had a research job with the Education Department in Wellington; but except James all my other close friends were in England, and it was with them I wanted to be. Leaving England at the end of June I had felt as if going into exile, because it seemed to me then that I belonged to England even more than to New Zealand. I had enjoyed and loved the best of England, I must not now refuse the worst. In Honolulu, I had felt myself at once in the New Zealand orbit, and England suddenly became remote; but the war changed that, and England called me again. My father was very upset that I would not return home with him — and also that I was not at once offering my services to the state. We had a fortnight together in Hawaii, then he went on to the States while I waited for him; it was while he was there that the war began and I decided to return to England. He came back to Honolulu from the States very unwell, and when we said goodbye again we were hardly able to trust our voices to speak, he in grief and I in pity that he seemed all at once so frail, old, and helpless. We had not talked about Lel at all, although both of us mentioned her often enough — to him she was now always 'dear Lel'. His news of New Zealand, and the letters coming from there, had begun to draw me back strongly: Emily was building a house in Queenstown; the Pages looked forward to my coming; and there were Jack and Ian. My father

* See poem 'In Memory of Robin Hyde 1906-39' in Disputed Ground

page 347brought a copy of my book, out at last,* and of Art in New Zealand, which had printed two poems of mine that Iris had sent for me to Harry Tombs, and also a reproduction of Eve's portrait of me. He agreed with me when I exclaimed with pleasure at the printing of the book, but did not mention it again.

On the Kona coast the nights were clouded, starless, oppressive; when they were partly clear, we saw meteors falling silently. I felt myself numb and leaden and without hope, and because of that my father and I had almost nothing to say to each other, trivialities apart. Only the unquiet sea was alive, I thought. It seemed to speak what we could not speak, and I was able to catch a few lines of verse that rose in me as if out of the sea itself, like a difficult prayer addressed to the sea. Of all I wrote and tried to write at that time these were the only words that seemed to keep any meaning.

On the first of September the Germans invaded Poland. Two days later England and France were declared to be at war with Germany. I had to wait in Honolulu before I was able to get a ship to the mainland, and waited again in New York hesitating to return to England. I was anxious for news from Colin and John especially: what was happening? what were they doing? Colin wrote soberly, matter-of-fact; he was starting a government job soon, quite unsuitable, he thought; his brother, Brian, was remaining with the Telegraph, and Leonie at the Press; refugees were being well treated so far. Everyone was glad I was coming back instead of going on to New Zealand.

In New York, Henriette and Phil were deeply depressed about the war and the future. But they would not stop working and hoping: Phil's sturdiness, rooted in physical well-being, and his realistic native optimism; Henrietta's clear-sightedness and resilience — these would carry them on. Henriette had remarkable honesty; I could not resent anything she said, even when she spoke bluntly. She talked with such frankness that I felt she liked me, which was warming. She asked if I was content to write poetry. She did not think one could be quite honest in poetry (honest with oneself, events, objects), because it is too easy to evade, to escape into beautiful phrases; but prose i

* The Land and the People and other poems, The Caxton Press, Christchurch, 1939

See poem 'Great Sea' in Disputed Ground

page 348merciless, there one must have material, facts, and must be honest about them. She showed me a piece by James in New Masses in which a Chinese peasant spoke, a kind of free verse, which she thought had greater possibilities than stricter forms with rhyme, for these prevent the poet from saying what he wants.

She suggested my writing a book on New Zealand. And Phil, talking about Norman Corwin's radio piece, They Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease, proposed I might try a work of that sort. Henriette then asked, did I want a job, because one becomes rooted in life only, or best, through a job. However, she thought marriage would solve all my problems — with which my father would have agreed; very concerned and serious, he had given me a prudent little talk on the subject one night as we sat on the terrace of the Moana by the sea. If I had said that I thought of staying in America provided I could find work, Henriette and Phil would have done all they could to help me; their generosity and care for quite new friends were selfless and touching.

New York was not to be measured by any human scale; the size of the bare faceless buildings with the myriad dead eyes of their windows bore no relation to the size of a man. London is a human city in which man is the measure; New York by contrast is abstract, ideal, ruthlessly totalitarian, with no concern for man the individual but only for some impersonal collective. And yet since my first visit to America, to New York especially, I had felt strongly the deeply rooted sense of justice at work in the country, its fundamental free spirit of inquiry. However ruthless private corporations and public institutions might be, however corruption had spread and ramified, Americans in the end would not accept the evils of their society just for the sake of quiet and decorum. They would probe and question persistently in a radical way unthinkable in England, until evil was exposed and society purged of at least its grossest defects. They would question everything, down to principles, the very foundations of their way of life. That was part of the significance of Whitman. He spoke of the huge energies of hustling America, and of the free independent American who was its measure. He identified American man, the American spirit. While his influence was current, America would not break apart.

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Ida Pruitt gave me the surprising news that James was on his way back to New Zealand. She thought it was because of difficulties in China which prevented his reaching the north-west. Yet his heart was in China, Miss Pruitt said, as hers was; she had spent her life there and was now working for Rewi Alley's industrial co-operatives. But if she could not go on working in China, she might follow James to New Zealand.