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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 19. 3rd August 1972

Crossing the Bar:

Crossing the Bar:

Crossing the Bar is not, as one might suppose, reminiscences of a balmy sea voyage, it refers to the world record for the high jump, and here becomes Stead's celebration of imperfection -

"Only the whole man
jumps his own height."

Crossing the Bar is an interesting parabola of Stead's work, as always full of echoes and recording his susceptability to pulse and impulse. Like Smithyman he uses an impressionist technique, though more consistently lyrical: his are phrases to evoke and release; his tone of one constantly refreshed with the familiar and unfamiliar perspective of himself.

"Don't imagine
I'm going to lie beside you
as a young sibling
Like an ageing parent.
Don't believe
This mouth, these eyes
Speak for the whole man
or that the rational brow
Accounts for more of me
Than the goat in the thighs".

Stead has called his poems "Responses to occasions": insofar as each poem is an image concentrating on itself, this is true of Crossing the Bar, as in Heracles 3;

"Live in the present.
Lose yourself there.
Trees, children, those freesias
By the brick border
Become what you see."

However he never becomes what he sees in any abstract sense because his poetry is a frank reminder of the demands of personality, often with an ironic humour directed at himself, Lines concluding a Public Lecture on Poetry & Criticism 1966. Having once remarked that he thought poetry has no designs on the world, Stead, in Crossing the Bar, has not lost this happy perspective. He makes no attempt to inform, he simply expresses, often wry, and often delighted. The first section, You have a lot to lose, displays less of the more serious flavour apparent in the earlier poems in the third section, which contain, for me, a sometimes weighty apprehension of himself as a poet.

"Sing a waste of dreams that are
caressing, moist, familiar."

In the title poem there is a rather more caustic and sidelong glance

"Poets at the last are deft.
I contract to that end
My second-best art."

If at times, ther appears a somewhat dissonant note recalling the Elvis era

"Ceasar, you were everybody's baby
But not mine",

the more recent poems generally are more stringent:

"Happy birthday Shakespeare
the comedy of errors escalates"

(April Notebook). Stead's tone is sure, he is indeed deft, but more than that, he accepts the responsibility of his verse.

"What there was between us
Unique In no way extraordinary
Is a private world.
Today the public world is as before."

(Herakles VII Crossing the Bar is chiefly remarkable for its expression of lucid and often lyrical restraint.

"They told me hell
was full of noise. None of it came to me."

(Letter to the Enemy).