Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 11. July 30, 1947

These University Poets

These University Poets

"Salient" is primarily a reporting paper; this year it gave fortnightly reports; it may at some future time perhaps give weekly reports. And "Salient" prints poetry. It prints not only occasional verse but also the poetry of this College. There has been a segregation and part of the poetry was published in broadsheets by the Literary Society but this arrangement may be only temporary; the printing in the columns of news and without a box is evil; but for all that we find the unique phenomena of a regular report on the colleges poetic life. From the verse one can easily see that this life is existent, that we have not yet become a streamlined world without any but practical problems.

The habit of "Freudian" analysis, so strong a few years ago has even subsided and left students in a more helpless, more amiable state. A number of men and women who will later be pleasantly settled and without problems but those of the day, are found in these verses genuinely trying to grasp a poetic mystery; as in Searos' Love Song:

What contours would the clouds assume?
And would the mountains turn from their pristine heights
And deliver, like an incantation, the secret of their beauty?

These symbols are not grasped as a poet grasps them; they have not become loose from their ordinary meanings and willing instruments in a poetic conception; but there is a genuine concern. A true poet's concern would have been more liberated from a common substance, more individual, and probably also less "genuine," because the poetic felicity is not generally combined with this clinging attachment to symbols; in poetry, as in love, there is a looseness which is at the same time the truest conjunction. I am not clearly, trying to Judge the quoted verses; I am only indicating that in writing about the generality of college verse one is writing not about poetry, but about life, and in noting pre-occupations, in seeking interpretations for them, one is not engaging in literary criticism. When Searos, for instance, proceeds:

Would the bland and flippant blueness of the sky
Become profound? . . . .

We see the distinction of lightness and profundity which dominates this generation: the movie as opposed to the lyric, glamour as opposed to true love. This is noteworthy from a "sociological" viewpoint; it illustrates our time and shows that these contraries existed in the minds of this generation in New Zealand.

If is interesting to see the development of this "Searos"—a good instance of the rather aware, sufficiently individual university poet—through the poems published: "The Old Piano" ("Salient," Vol. 9, No. 12), the first, has the advantage of a central symbol and a strongly felt execution. But in spite of the central symbol, it can never become poetry: the writer is too active, too much a man with a job. He grabs his piano, his symbol, as if it were a tool and makes it work for him. He has no passive experience of the "Thing." It never becomes a piano, but always remains a symbol. In "Love Song" ("Salient," 10, 3), although even more matter-of-fact, even less delicate, he finds himself more truly. It finds the source whence his poetry might come: a questioning of the world. He handles abstract symbols now, not "Things." And from that poem he might have developed into greater appositeness and distinctness. But instead of that, in the third poem, "To Her" ("Salient," 10, 7), we have facileness, flippancy; what was the core in the earlier poem is now also diffuse.

It is from a certain point of view not exhilarating to read university verse. There are too many annals of battles lost. When everything is destroyed we find the triviality of Vogt's "Grand Old Man," where development has stopped early and only virtuosity has grown.

A few poems fortunately stand out from this generality. CAPJ in Post-War POW, has not written a successful, rounded poem, but there is a sure recalling of experience, and an unusual knowledge of the substance of words.

The most poetic phenomenon in "Salient" this year is D., in a poem beginning with the bad line "Laughing and free, you have sold your soul." He will, no doubt, learn in time what the true connations of these two adjectives are. And he also overcharges the word "willingness." But all this may perhaps be written down to that strange factor, "immaturity." He speaks about one who has made the usual choice: for the everyday world and against the life of the spirit, or the soul or beauty or what you will. "But hear the river departing," he says, and continues:

No more will eager rain fall headlong silver,
Nor will the ocean waves creep dying to your feet.

And in this picture of dryness he introduces the only form of liquid that is even more terrible than dryness:

Only strange rivulets, intersecting things
Will secret come to drain your midnight pain.

He has a moment of doubt about this: maybe the everyday world is yet the winner.

Or are your midnights each a blossom
Over-ripe with willingness.

Then follow the best lines:

Stand in the dark, the wind's long arm on your shoulder
Hear! Who are you? Who are you?
Rattling the window panes of unawareness
The axis of your symmetry unloosening
Leaves open spaces wide, where fear will descend
Through all your afflictions to meet you.

Here then we find the personal symbols the private language which are the elements of a true poetic magic. Accuracy and neatness may develop later, but in certain points D. no [unclear: longed] an apprentice, and cannot be said to be "immature." I will have succeeded in the purpose of this short essay if I have impressed this essential difference between the verse which is life and the verse which is poetry, and why in spite of this I do not have any animosity towards those genuine annals of the most important battles of our lives which are found in the generality of "university verse."

E. Schwimmer.