Charles Brasch, a visual poet : A study of natural imagery in Charles Brasch's poetry (1991)
AuthorsQuigley, S. V.show all
In the field of post-war New Zealand literature, Charles Brasch is a prominent figure. Surprisingly little has been written on a man who edited the first successful literary periodical in this country, who was a generous patron and supporter of the arts, and who was a prolific writer in both prose and poetry. He is best known for his twenty-year-long editorship of Landfall; as a poet he has received less recognition than perhaps he deserves. In researching this study, I have discovered that the general impression of his poetry is of a verse which is rather narrow in scope; for it is the work of his first two volumes which has received most critical attention, and on the whole this is descriptive 'landscape poetry' which deals, superficially at least, with nationalist concerns. I feel, too, that in recent decades there has been a tendency to view the Landfall generation, European and male-dominated as it was, in a rather negative light - an inevitable reaction, perhaps, to the widely promoted reputation in the forties, fifties and early sixties, of these writers as the initiators of an established New Zealand culture. This, too, is a possible reason why Charles Brasch, even more European-orientated than most of his contemporaries, has been somewhat neglected in the literature of the 1970s and 1980s. It is the aim of this study to place Brasch's writing back in a realistic perspective, regardless of literary vogue, and to present it neither as solely 'landscape' nor solely 'indigenous' poetry but rather as work of a universal and timeless relevance. It is largely due to Brasch's constant reference to the unchanging absolutes of nature that his poetry transcends any categorical boundaries of nationality or era; and it is the different ways in which this natural imagery is used throughout the course of Brasch's writing that are the main focus of this work. There is a marked development in the way landscape is included throughout Brasch's six volumes, which constitute the main corpus of his poetical work: the specific concrete locations of the first three volumes give way to the symbolic imagery of the fourth and fifth, while in the sixth there is a partial return to the real. These shifts mirror the changes in the poet's preoccupations over several decades of writing, and, if only for this reason, I feel it is vital to view Brasch's work as a unified whole rather than to take a piecemeal approach. In order to outline this broad development, the divisions in this study are made according to volumes, in chronological order. A focus on landscape is, for Brasch, not often an end in itself, but instead provides him with the means of objectively expressing his own intensely private world, thereby commenting on the central facts of all human experience. This study presents my opinion that such a use of landscape imagery not only results in work of a strikingly visual impact, but also creates poetry of a timeless depth and quality, making it as enduring as the natural world around which it is centred.