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

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