Curnow, Allen

New Zealand, (1911-2001)

Variations on a Theme

  1. Bring me an axe and spade
  2. For this is insolent country
  3. James Cook’s pig-farm
  4. Without rule or road.
  5.  
  6. Bring me a winding-sheet
  7. For the brown singing people
  8. Affront with death our triumph, an
  9. Unangry death without fight.
  10.  
  11. When I my grave have made
  12. I shall write to friends at Home
  13. And with an English accent
  14. How shall I be afraid?
  15.  
  16. Let winds and tempests beat
  17. On 1000 bungalows,
  18. To our suburban burial
  19. Slouch followers on foot.
  20.  
  21. Down I’ll lay
  22. As cold as clay
  23. Thank God true love
  24. Does pass away,
  25.  
  26. The empire and the empty lands
  27. The iron and the golden sands
  28. Dredged and dumped
  29. With the wheezing sea clay.

Editor’s Note:

This poem first appeared in the magazine of politics, arts and culture, Tomorrow, for 13 October, 1937 as ‘Variations on a Theme’. The title was changed to ‘Epilogue’ for inclusion in Curnow’s Not In Narrow Seas: poems with prose Christchurch, NZ: Caxton Press (1939).

This is poem is an adaptation of the last stanza of William Blake’s (1757-1827) famous lyric of unrequited love, ‘Song’. Individual lines from Blake’s stanza provide the first lines of Curnow’s quatrains.

About the Poet:

Thomas Allen Munro Curnow, New Zealand. (1911-2001) was a poet, satirist and journalist. He was born in Timaru, New Zealand and educated at Christchurch Boys’ High School, Canterbury University, Auckland University and St John’s Theological College. He then taught English at Auckland University from 1950 to 1976.

Curnow’s work has been recognized as among the finest produced in New Zealand, and has received critical acclaim both at home and internationally. His career spanned six decades and there was a strong local and international following for his work.

Allen Curnow was one of the defining voices of 20th-century New Zealand literature. He famously argued that New Zealand creative writers should be trying to define and understand their country through their work, rather than falling back on sentimental verse or trying to echo English poetry. [DES-11/17]

A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.