To a friend – Allen Curnow – Analysis

To a Friend

Old friend, dear friend, some day
when I have had my say, and the world its way,
when all that is left is the gathering in of ends,
and forgathering of friends,
on some autumn evening when the mullet leap
in a sea of silver-grey,
then, O then I will come again
and stay for as long as I may,
stay till the time for sleep;
gaze at the rock that died before me,
the sea that lives for ever;
of air and sunlight, frost and wave and cloud,
and all the remembered agony and joy
fashion my shroud.

Allen Curnow (1911 – 2001) New Zealand poet and journalist

Shroud – veil cover … burial cloth
Forgathering – formal assembly

Dissolving into the environment on an autumn evening as he himself comes to the final days of his life … when he has had his say … he was a distinguished and internationally recognised poet who won the Queen’s Gold Award and brought New Zealand firmly to the forefront by his poetry … he lived a long life and it’s nice to think that he is happy about his accomplishment and that his work is now complete … and the world has had its way … a somewhat philosophic contemplation on how the world has dealt with him in his lifetime … the world seen as a person of action in which he has to accept what ever occurs.

… then comes the finalisation of what needs to be done for his personal completion … when all that is left is the gathering of ends … resurrected into the living world of nature … remembering all life – the basic elements – air, sunlight, frost, wave, cloud – equated to the agony and joy of existence.

gaze at the rock that died before me … the rock was formed through process and died long ago … a completion of a process … he has now completed his process (poetically speaking)

… the sea that lives for ever … reflecting on the constant energy and movement of the sea … life will go on endlessly … and then he too is part of nature as he absorbs into the environment

remembered agony and joy … joy and sorrow were part of his life and will be part of his burial cloth … the common threads through all humanity

Allen Curnow was born in 1911 in Timaru, New Zealand. He was a fifth generation New Zealander. His father was an Anglican Minister and during his childhood Curnow moved to many parishes with his parents and lived in a succession of Anglican vicarages. Canterbury, Belfast, Malvern, Lyttelton and New Brighton to name a few.

A few years ago I watched a brilliant documentary on Allen Curnow entitled ‘Early Days yet’ which was recorded towards the end of his life. See …

He is perhaps regarded as the definitive New Zealand poet.

A link to Allen Curnow on Wikipedia

The Weather Dictates? – and from New Zealand …

How much of poetry is dictated by the weather. Put another way how much does weather dictate poetry. I came across the following in a Hotel in New Zealand …


Here are the words from the above image …

Remember when it always used to rain. Fifty years ago a visitor to Hokitika (a town on the west coast of South Island) wrote the following after receiving a week of unseasonable weather.

It rained and rained and rained –
the average fall was well maintained.
and when the tracks were simply bogs
it started raining Cats and Dogs.
After a drought of half and hour,
we had a most refreshing shower,
and then the most curious thing of all
a gentle rain began to fall.
Next day was also fairly dry,
save for a deluge from the sky,
which wetted the party to the skin,
and after that the rain set in.

Well what do you  do when confined by the weather and nothing to do – this person vented his frustration in the above words – which probably forced a non-poet into such expression.

Here is a New Zealand poem written after walking on the cliffs at Cape Foulwind, Westport, South Island – and as the name suggests a most unhospitable place. However, the view of the seals playing on the rocks at the foot of cliffs was well worth the discomfort of the walk in the wet.


Cape Foulwind Walk

on a summer day winter crowds-in to submerge
the sky and sea sweep together enclosing thoughts
no imagination is needed for this foul named place
this country continually perforated by wind driven rain

the weather deepens impregnating every footstep
the old gortex has had its day and dampens from the inside
but the path is set along the cliffs to the promised sight of seals
as wekas scout around before darting to their rabbit hole existence

then that point is reached when saturated by the wet
there is a resigned acceptance absorbed to the conditions
but when wailing gutteral sounds waft up in the squall
thoughts turn inside out to the rocks far below

oblivious of any impending storm, with thick skin immunity,
at home, on vacant rock spaces, in waterhole pools,
and indolent in the continual spray of the Tasman chunder,
the seals slub around regardless, in elemental play


Richard Scutter 15 March 2010

Weka – Flightless New Zealand bird about the size of a chicken