Allen Curnow – ‘Continuum’
Allen Curnow lived the whole of his long life (1911-2001) in New Zealand; initially he studied theology in order to follow his father’s calling as a priest, but he later became a journalist, work that he continued for most of his working life. He edited a famous anthology of New Zealand verse, published in 1945, which provided the first coherent collection of NZ poetry. In his introduction he identified aspects of the poems he included that he considered peculiarly representative of NZ and identified what he called a “common problem of the imagination” for NZ poets. Later of his own poetry he said “I had to get past the severities, not to say rigidities, of our New Zealand anti- myth: away from questions which present themselves as public and answerable, towards the questions which are always private and unanswerable.”
‘Continuum’ is not at first reading an easy poem to grasp, but its thoughts and feelings become more accessible and clear on re-readings. The poet is unable to sleep – a situation that we must all be familiar with – and goes out of the house into the front garden (stanza 3); he stands in the porch looking at the moon and the clouds, hardly conscious of either the time or the chill that he begins to feel (stanza 5); finally he returns to bed, perhaps having written this poem (do the first two lines of stanza 6 suggest this?).
What is fascinating about the poem is the way in which he writes about himself as another person or thing – in the first stanza he identifies himself with the moon; in the last stanza he writes as if he, the poet, is describing what he did to “the author”, so that the pair walk “stealthily in step”, as if half-afraid, and certainly unsure, of what is happening to him.