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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 7. June 25, 1951

The Vitality of Greatness

The Vitality of Greatness

Charles Brasch's "Waitaki Revisited" is probably the most successful reflective poem written by a New Zealander. It is made compelling by its harmonious linkage of thoughts, by the brilliant interplay of the symbols of natural objects, and by their assessment in terms of a life's experience and of the absolute "Comfort, Certainty, Knowledge." The sight of the Waitaki school takes the poet back to a time of "terrible asking" about "distant worlds." But now he realises that

In the time of the heart man is alone
And to those he longs to confide in, the nights, the wind,
He is but surface and texture."
His own spirit's "solitary passage" is
"Swept by a vast wind, and the wintry, perpetuad
Flashing of violent stars."

The Sapphic stanza form is ideal, and in this poem Charles Brasch shows himself the spiritual heir of Holderlin and the Rilke of the Duino Elegies.

Basil Dowling's "Canterbury" shows that the experience of Nature is not only compelling in the imaginative reconstructions of poetry, but can also be an almost visionary experience. Canterbury, bleak and indifferent, takes on the richest Significance for him—the vision of the distant hills which seem to justify his calling it his "holy land of childhood" is at the same time "colourless and thin," and, paradoxically, the city is "a friend" only when seen at commonplace close range—"Sight rides on power-poles." Dowling is a true Canterbury poet, for in language stripped of all ornaments he has caught the essence of the scene.

Allen Curnow's difficult poem "At Dead Low Water" embodies a complete symbolism showing death and corruption in relation to time and to individual experience. Cumow has perhaps the most powerful intellect of all our poets, but tho force of the torrent of his poetry seems to be broken as it comes out of the depths by a barrier of words. His brilliant images can become sterile through their modulations, but this very sterility shows his reluctance to give way to any facile or inexact form of expression.

The theme of the first movement of this poem is that "All drifts, till fire or burial." Decay has a link with a time before Creation, but time itself means an interplay of birth and death. The second movement shows one instance where the tide absorbs the memory of a fresh life, and so taints it with death. In the third, time is seen to fossilise and heave up all experience, which has 'meaning only in the approach of "individual pain."

Denis Glover in "Themes" gives a more vivid and concrete form to corruption and decay. The poem seems to me an almost perfect dramatisation of the line T. S. Eliot borrowed from Dante, "I had not thought death had undone so many." He measures the things of corruption and discord against timeless verities; the themes of poets are set down in the magnicent last lines

"Sing all things sweet or harsh upon
These islands in the Pacific sun,
The mountains whitened endlessly
And the white horses of the winter sea,
sings Harry."

"Letter to Noel Ginn (II), a poem to a friend In a defaulters' camp, is by James Baxter, the most remarkable of our young poets. Its solemn six-line stanzas are full of selfmockery and cynicism, a cynicism of compassion, if such a thing is possible. The poem Is discursive, but the imagery is so well built up that tho speculations about himself and other men, the philosophising and prophesying, the childhood reminiscences and the expression of landscape all have relevance and sincerity, all share in "the vision splendid." The Letter makes a bitter contrast between futile dreams of youth and a wretched life. Shakespeare's sonnet "The expense of spirit In a waste of shame. Is lust in action" ls more than a quotation—it is, I feel, the core of the poem, and in it the literary and personal experience is completely fused.

"Letter to Noel Ginn" is one of the last poems In this book, and it was written over three years ago. Since then Baxter has written more poems of this calibre, and we have become acquainted with the work of other young poetn llko Alistair Campbell, P. S. Wilson and W. H. Oliver—all this seems to demand yet another book of New Zealand verse, and so, I foci sure will a reading public which has been brought Into contact with vital poetry of high standing.

By Peter Dkonke