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This article is taken from PN Review 129, Volume 26 Number 1, September - October 1999.

'There is no bloodless myth will hold': Allen Curnow Chris Miller

In futurity
I, prophetic, see...
                           Blake: Songs of Innocence, XXI: 'The Little Girl Lost'

The later poetry of Allen Curnow is widely assumed to have abandoned the public voice characteristic of that public commission 'Landfall in Unknown Seas' (1942). A.J. Gurr took Curnow to task for imposing a moral, indeed an ideology, in that poem, and when, two years prior to its composition, Curnow discussed the notion of prophecy in a Christchurch paper, The Press, he noted that the poet might indeed have 'an irresistible compulsion to speak with larger inspiration, addressing himself as teacher and philosopher to the individual, the nation and the race'. Discussing the poetry of Eliot and the 'school' of Auden, Curnow compared their 'warnings of impending disasters' and 'bitter indignation against human wrongs' with the admonitions of the Old Testament prophets.

In citing The Waste Land and 'The Second Coming', Curnow was on strong ground. (What 'race' was doing in the sentence, I am uncertain; presumably it referred to 'les mots de la tribu' anglophone.) But prophecy was not, he said, 'a telescope for looking at the future', nor had the interwar poets 'predicted' what was to come. In Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects (hereafter TEMO, 1972), Curnow quoted from the 'Introduction' to Blake's Songs of Experience, which begins with the lines: 'Hear the voice of the Bard,/ Who past and present sees', so it is of interest to read his 1940 article in the light of TEMO. ...


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