“Yours, my old and
Kendrick Smithyman’s Letters
to Graham Perkins, 1942-45
Edited and with notes by Peter
© Margaret Edgcumbe and Graham
Handwritten, 4pp, on paper printed
with the heading A.F.C.A. Cambridge Military Camp
A. F. C. A.
Cambridge Military Camp
1/ 10/ 891
Survey Troop, N.Z.A
Disregard above address as we are due to shift. A sorrow that consumes our
hearts, for this is the best thing I’ve struck.
I’m officially storeman of this Troop, in reality quartermaster-rousteabout
[sic]. There are only thirty in this show, one officer and one sergeant. We
live like a large scale family, all having more or less common taste. The
majority are Varsity boys, and the majority are damned good fellows to work
with. Only one bombardier mars our little heaven’s galaxy.
For three weeks past we have been out of Hopu Hopu, a
wandering, semi-independent troop, though drawing our stores there. We are
camped a mile from Te Kauwhata
township, partly in an orchard. The local people have a tradition of
magnificent hospitality, open handed with all things. One damsel tonight
smuggled me a bottle of wine; a bloke living near brings us beer regularly from
Rangiriri. They arrange dances, card evenings & socials for us. We are the envy of the
Hopu Hopu boys. Not the least attraction is a lassie of the district for whose
fair face I earned myself seven days C.B.—fortunately commuted. How I will
regret leaving her. But we are transients, and our O.C. promises us battle at
the end of each week presumably to discourage lavish living. So I must sigh and
slide. We are to retreat to a mountain fastness, close to my old haunt of Y. M.
My main job in life is drawing of stores. My afternoons are comparatively free.
Where you have the gulls’ cries in your ears, I have only the cry of my
profane comrades, or the threatening whine of a diving mosquito. Mosquitoes
abide in hordes, and the night is full of their song. Our surroundings are
attractive. We are on a major height, and look across to the recesses of the
To the south is Huntly, lying in a plain rich in colour, braided with the
willows that mark the course of every stream, lake and Waikato meander. The
willows are prolific, for much of the land is swamp. A great deal is the sullen
and sour marsh; some stretches have definite beauties, particularly as the
convolvulus covering them is now flowering. Our next
berth has little to offer, apart from its near isolation.
The Troop itself is engaged in military map making. Amateur strategists may
work out some significance from this.
You will possibly have heard of the 3rd. Battery’s mutiny
& walk out over the vexed leave question. Our conditions are peculiar to
the Northern District, and there is wide spread disaffection in the camps due
to the way we have been subject to petty amendments and curtailings. The real
reason I think is staleness setting in, a demobilization being in this respect
advisable. Lack of interest has become an aggravated chafing at discipline. And
this is worsened by the attendant evidence of bungling and incompetence we have
bewailed before this. The 1st. Field is a lamentable example.
we live for the phantom of demobilization scheduled to occur March 2nd
when Varsity boys may be jerked out. I exist on hopes.
This exhausts my mind & energy. I was home Wednesday, and found that
Utopian atmosphere home seems to assume. I missed your family thru pressure of
Paper is finished; likewise self.
Typewritten, 2pp; undated,
post-marked Maungaturoto, 30 July 1942
1st. Survey Troop N.Z.A
Your letter has just been received and behold me prompt at the machin
d’écrire [sic]. My typing is somewhat erratic simple soul that I be with
mechanical things. So be ready for amazing variations on the usual spelling of
words I can only assure you I know are spelt differently. The space bar is a
contrivance of the devil as far as I am concerned, though very handy in the
writing of verse in the most advanced style as favoured by the devotees of Ezra
Pound and E.E. Cummings [.] I am working on a theory of modern verse and layout, a thesis to be published
with a most imposing title…you know the sort of thing “Notes on the
cerebro paranoic elements in the Paris School of Rapallo verse” This will
be known as THE SMITHYMAN THEORY and will be inflicted on those bloody fools
who think you can find out about language and poetry from a text-book. It will
be I am afraid a short thesis: but the quality of that work will be rousing
comment in the unborn ages among students of the rare and devious alleys of our
The quotation you enclose is a peculiar variation on one known to me, but such
a variation as to make me wonder if I may not be thinking of something else. It
hurts me to reveal my ignorance, but I cant tell you for certain whence it
comes. Not Hamlet, my old and rare—that I’ll guarantee. The quote
itself runs…The man who has no music in his soul is fit for treason,
stratagems and spoil (I think).
The ‘murder, larceny and crime’ of your local lassie is so
redundant as to make one shudder in ascribing it to the Sun of Avon. (and
source of the Stratford income) He was God knows free enough with his language,
but even he would have drawn a very distinct line thru any such atrocity as
this. Its bad enough to be from one of the most admired works of R. Kipling. Or
The thing itself as you have realised is so well known as to be almost
non-placeable except by withered females of our Schools who discuss the
immaterial and pedantic aspects of the plays with great fluidity and little
perception. I suggest myself the first scene of Twelfth Night, the same speech
that contains the O play that strain again. You may remember Beaver Ash
constraining us to letter it. There are after all only thirty seven plays ascribed to W S. The young lass
could read them with edification. She’d probably enjoy the rabid
patriotism of the Henry 4 group—theyre the last word in how to be loyal
in many volumes.
the aged Beaver. You may not know that the Bledisloe Prize of the Art Annual
Exhibition went to him this year. Not that the work had great qualities. But it was the
only one that met with the demands of the Prize. Beaver himself thought so
little of it he offered it for sale, and reserved the other one he was showing,
a very competent job. There were in this years show two big canvases by Weeks
the Northcote man who paints this land the way I want to write about
it…very dark and full of magnificent colouring within a very limited
range, sombre and strong.
am still a humble gunner. The sententious Artillery catchphrase Once a gunner
always a gunner looks too blasted apposite for my eyes. We have just been made
an accounting unit, in which case I should soon be elevated to the aristocracy
and become a Staff Sgt. To which my job entitles me. But knowing the ways of
the bastard who runs this Troop I see this happening with the utmost
difficulty. This burst of egoism set out to be congratulation to you on your
two stripes, not undeserved.
admire the facilities of your office staff. I have been trying for some time to
get a WWSA to be my assistant.
But the boss wont indent for one. Not that he doubts my intention or attitude
to the fair wenches in khaki. They are as he knows of the lewdest.
Work we do could not be done entirely by women as it involves strenuous lugging
of poles up very steep hills. (for ‘we’ above read rest of Troop,
not me). But there is no reason why women should not be trained to do the
computation involved, as they are being trained to do as gun specs. Women, said
the well known storeman when interviewed by the Waibuggateatree Times (do not
confuse with London paper of same name) have a definite place in the Survey
Troop. The place is unspecified. As A G Macdonnell says Woman’s place is
I fear the Army makes me coarse.
job though I get intensely annoyed at times is eminently suitable for my
purposes. Whenever I wish to write I retire to my P W D shack which serves as
store and spread out the petrol accounts. Then I
set to work to write. This afternoon being wet and the boss being absent I set
to work and wrote a whole string of poems to the sister-in-law of my printing
pal. I am trying to convince myself I am in love with her. If I write enough you can
never tell what may happen. Her own attitude to me I do not doubt. I hope my
facile verse may change that. If it dies I’ll probably have to write a
series of obscenities to restore my independence. The affaire romantique has
such complexity I foresee a crop of metaphysical poems will be needed to
explain my attitude to curious posterity.
This is sufficient blather for any of Gods humble creatures to read at one
sitting. I envy you the music of Picton. I am
missing good music horribly at the present. Possibly you are too. I apologise
for the malice of the last remark and am
Handwritten, 4pp, undated
1/ 10/ 891
1st Survey Troop NZA
Bay of Islands
[11 August 1942]
I don’t know if I’ve written to you since taking quarters at the
above address. But as you may see, we bid well to be a bunch of gipsies when
you consider our moves. This, as a camp site is the best we’ve struck. I
attempt to describe it within the limits of security, this being a fortress
Like your own self I have ended up by the sea. I assume you know the general
layout of this part of the Bay, and how we stand in relation to Russell, Opua
The beach here reminds me of Waiheke,
and a little of the coast camp where we had our bach. It is
brighter than the muddy beaches of the city, due to the considerable mixture of
orange shell in the sand. At low tide there is not much difference from high,
when I think of the acres of dolorous mud flat so long and painfully visible at
Point. There is, moreover, an attempt at surf—one solitary wave breaks at any
time, though this is augmented when the easterlies drive in. Then we have a
passable thunder on the sand, there is spray on the rocks at either end of the
beach, and the launches smack up and down with consequent horrors to my imaginative
stomach. At such time our naval aspirants draw themselves up in attempt to look
romantically at home with salt in their nostrils.
The weather has been tolerable, rough with smooth. There was a magnificent grey
sheen on the water this morning, with the sun rising through an early mist.
With such trivialities we compensate ourselves for the strain on nerves that
result from forced association with our O.C.
I disdain rubbernecking in these places, assuming rather a god like
indifference to the historic pilgrimages. But I
must confess that I had real pleasure in wandering through the local
churchyard. The church itself was built in 1925, a tasteful job in stone, very
much in harmony with its surroundings. Almost immediately behind it, the bank
ascends steeply; at its foot the graves, partly surrounded by lawns, partly
overgrown by perrywinkles [sic] (or bluebells?) a profusion of colour. There
are poplars as well, stripped at present but very lovely with their austerity
and the calm bark. The manuka, which ravages the major part of the lands
hereabouts, stands at a decent distance behind them. It is the true king here,
for whatever is left empty a while comes soon under its dominion.
grotesque fancy struck me the other day. It was showery and gray, the right
weather to visit a graveyard. One then appreciates its atmosphere. I came
across one grave like the others, untended. The headstone was broken, and its
characters erased by the elements beloved of Victorian novelists. It had thus
no personality, the heart once pregnant may be laid there, but for me it has
[no] feature to distinguish it from the hordes of the anonymous who in some
measure shaped this North. Around the grave was a railing, a barrier that
outlasted the identity of the one who occasioned its erection. From the far
corner of the plot, a sapling wound up, its roots bedded well, its trunk
twisted as if growth had been hard. The foliage was half torn away, probably by
wind so it had no crown to flourish. Weeds rambled on the surface, tossing
arrogantly. And amid them, to complete my catalogue of symbols of mortality, an
empty bottle lay, mute but inconceivably eloquent.
It flashed on me that here were all the cynic symbols of human mortality,
visible commentary. I played with the fancy for days, it still delights me,
which is why I present it to you at this length. I hope you enjoy
it—though the secret may well be in the mood engendered by sea, rain,
macrocarpas, and the nature notes appended previously.
The country behind is wild, for miles only scrub. I had a decently long trip
today to Okaihau, Kaikohe and Kawakawa. As we
went out the mist had not lifted entirely, and the sun struck brilliant on
spider webs. Never have I been so conscious of their quality as this morning
when I saw them in quantity. I don’t remember this part, except Paihia
itself, but I should dearly like to see further north. This country constantly arouses
me as I have written so often. It must [be] in the blood. It is most definitely
an integral feature of my mental structure.
I had a letter from home today. Mum apparently has been ill, but the extent is
hard to judge. She, unlike her son says little of any ailments, so I can only judge from what
she has said, and magnify it. This may be unduly [word missing; anxious?] on my
part, but I am glad my furlough is due on Monday next. I would like to be home,
as is natural, but especially so now either of my parents is liable to be
crook. Dad has secured hearing aids from the Disabilities etc. God knows
where, but I gather that he now has no difficulty in hearing any one say
“Have another?” Not that he did hitherto. . . Thomas Cat is reported
as a gadabout; he has only half the equipment of a fully able Thomas, but from
what I saw last time on leave, he’s developed it to a stage where any
normal cat would be easily eclipsed. And the impulses with it.
This wondrous scrawl is doubtless enough for any one to attempt. So I shall hie
me to bed, comfortable in my shack (P.W.D. courtesy of). When the wind hits,
everything shakes. The Wellington quakes would pass unnoticed after the
training I’ve had.
So, comfortably, I’m
I forgot to
mention I’m associating with Artillery gentlemen (socially) not unknown
to you. . . . Bruiser Forman’s merry boys. Do you know Murray Pulham?
He’s brother of an ex-girl friend. Very nice.
Handwritten, 3 pp.
1/ 10/ 891
Bay of Islands,
Tuesday 25th [August 1942]
Furlough, alas and alack, is over.
I write this at the side of my stretcher, not, as I would wish, within reach of
my bed. For seven nights I enjoyed the civilized delights of sheets and pillow
cases, of bed lamps and carpets, of those commonplace delights of the
civilians. Now they are done. But the regret for them remains. I am fond of the
pleasures of my gross carcase [sic], though in all honesty I must admit that my
Army way is not so bad.
My new quarters are in a corrugated iron garage, more waterproof than my ex
P.W.D. bungalow. It has the elements of comfort and the great virtue of
privacy. This last I may have to yield somewhat, 50% at least. But one can
under these circumstances be more oneself than in the enforced community of a
tent, where consideration of others’ feelings earns little for
one’s own. But enough of moaning. The transient inflation of leave is
still on me and I feel happy. Like you, I now have two stripes whose sole
virtue is their complete insurance of no mess fatigues or such bloody
And that is their total value.
letter of the 11th I did not get till today on return, but the later
reached me at home. It was then too late of course to postpone my furlough, as
I would have. But I’ll try to get a special leave on the 14th,
even if the family have to have a lamentable sickness at that time. I may even
be sick myself – I did my damnedest last week to catch measles. Failing
all else, you shall have my blessing.
I should like to be able to offer on that date a first edition of the Works of
ME, but owing to international conditions this noble effort (see above) is
I spare you an account of my furlough doings, They were both profitable and
entertaining. I fear that this child is growing a little too fond of alcohol.
Khayam may be a nice example, but in practice the liquor may just somehow be a
bastard at later date.
But it is a reaction to camp and an avenue of escape.
One event is notable. Apart from now being on nodding terms with Mason (publishes In Print) who was possibly New Zealand’s finest poet (see
Folios of New Writing, ’41)
whose work you may know, I met May Smith. Do you
recall her painting—ultra modern, and almost the only Aucklander who
paints in this mode without palpable imitation? We exchanged candid remarks;
she invited me to her studio yesterday to swap more, and asked for a chance to
retaliate. I am sending her a reply to her request in some of my latest works!
God help me if she loses it as I’m too lazy to make a copy of anything I
write. I can only pray she takes good care of my precious scribble. I demanded
from her a candid comment, and I’ll pass her opinions on to you if they
materialise. She has a background of cosmopolitan experience, a taste for
modernism and an enquiring mind. Auguries of what? Honesty I hope. It is all I
ask of anyone.
return trip today I made in daylight. It was long, from 8 o’clock till
six. In parts it was wearisome. But there were stretches of real delight that
filled me with my old passion for this land. Harshness in scrub, for today was
a grey day and all in tune with the bitter melody of the North, and sensuous
colour—hundreds of yards of willows newly in leaf, their roots and trunks
lost in still flood water so that their branches lay on the surface; moss and
green slime trailing from them. For miles I was filled with the imperative
desire to write. I had phrases, sentences and thunder in my mind. But my hand
is tired, and this is as far as I get.
So to bed. I dream of that never never time when we shall be free to come here
leisurely together and enjoy it all. I will read a while, a Restoration play by
Wycherley, bawdy and cynical.
I commend him to you. In this day of Methodist grace he is unashamedly
delighted to tumble in the hay.
A C 2 Smithyman W K
Flight 3 Group11
All this and Heaven too!!
Monday 28th (Dec) before lunch 
How many times I have begun a letter with an apology and then to do it again.
Somehow I suspect it’s a habit I won’t lose readily, so those (who)
have the dubious favour of my pen will be ultimately used to it. But I must
apologise for not wishing you the best of Christmas in time. The wish was tacit
but regrettably, not expressed. So please accept these belated wishes and may
they strengthen you in recovery from these indiscretions one is apt at this
season to force upon a suffering digestion.
All my mail this Christmas went by the board. Being in hospital when it should
have been written, it wasn’t. I was too bloody bored to do anything. It was a glorious chance to swot the
pre-entry stuff we do. I didn’t. Or to learn the Morse code. As it was I
went in knowing five letters and came out knowing three. I am very fond of
doing nothing but I hate to have to do it by compulsion. So I did nothing, and
Fortune following the foolish I was released on sick leave for the fatal
Christmas day and go on New Year for a week. Family celebrations were not of
the brightest as you may imagine. Mum was having a dismal spasm. But in the
city I rejoiced and had a tolerable time. Christmas Eve in particular must go
on record as the weirdest that ever fell to this child; beer and bawdiness in
good poetic measure. The record of that night I cannot commit to paper, the
Post Office being prissy about such matters. On the strength of it I am
claiming Villon and Burns as my patron saints. O joy and
new year promises well. Had I been free I could have gone to Kawau and Waiheke in a
keeler with a glorious crowd, a young Englishman, a shipbuilder, and his wife
who produces Dance Dramas for the W.E.A. But times
don’t suit. They come back as I arrive.
Incidentally I met a nice WAAF while in the slaughterhouse, a damsel
very personable. She turns out to be Fairburn’s sister-in-law; we’ll be on leave together, have a luncheon date so I’m mildly
interested to see how indiscreet I’ll be. A WAAF would be very agreeable.
It’s magnificently hot here today, and no wind. The camp is at
Brigham’s Creek – once again the countryside. The main
road is conveniently adjacent for illegal leaves. I am not tempted. The air is
full of engine noise, Hudsons drifting round. They make
the pines throb and eclipse the cicadas. Across the road, on a hill a good way
off a harvester is going, the hay looks mellow good for tumbling.
A Hudson overhead cut out just now. My heart went up and over with him. I was
on the drome when a plane went through a hangar. It leaves an impression.
And summer is here again and the war goes on. And all I can do is wish you well
in the New Year and remind you are quo
fas et gloria ducunt.
AC2 Smithyman W.K.
Monday 11th [January 1943]
wrote you circa New Year but God knows if the letter ever saw the post – I
couldn’t say myself. Sufficient anyway that I am back in camp fully
occupied with playing soldiers.
never liked the military way much and I don’t now. The delights of
bayonet drill are wholly illusory. I take no pleasure from poking steel into
ti-tree and kidding myself that by so doing I contribute to the betterment of
It may be but I cannot convince myself of it. Nor is there any mechanical
pleasure resulting from knowing the intimate ways of a Bren gun.
tolerated the pettiness of artillery: infantry I can stand not at all. To go crawling
across paddocks with a rifle is not my idea of seeing the country—but you
will get the general drift of what I feel.
Overall I think it is the wholehearted and essential futility of this. The
indifferent cynic that says It’ll all be the same twenty years from now
speaks a truth that may well be. We have seen it demonstrated once. It may
come again unless we are really determined and know what we want. Yet
didn’t we all want peace?
Though I wonder sometimes. This war was a release of sorts—we’re
not so far from animalism as the proud declare. But what the hell!!
camp I’m in now is a dispersal camp. With superb irony it is placed so
that I may from my front door stare across the harbour at Point Chev. beach.
Looking back on last year I am quite satisfied with what I wrote considering
the circumstances. Not as much as hitherto but I think it continues to develop
and take personal shape. Can I ask more? And here in the last few days I have
had a spasm, sacrificed time that should have gone to work, in writing,
producing a couple of stories that have certain virtues (—or at least
some virtues, certainty being lacking) A typewriter would be a great asset. I
must make an effort but I doubt if anything will come of it.
Bob Lowry has invited me to write for the 3rd division paper, as progressive
entrys [sic] and I intend to do what I can. The Army is too close to describe
yet, but I may use something of the last year. God witnesses the days of
and surely I could get something from them. But I fancy myself a return to the North to work out kid
stories as I was doing in ’41; reflection on
them I find more to my taste, an escape from this probably. Poetry is still my
truest vehicle, but its field is so limited in publication.
is all the miscellany I can scrape together for now. I feel rather restless,
looking for the day when I can get back to the North and have a stab at doing
what I want, to get it down on paper properly.
So for the present I am
AC 2 Smithyman W.K.
Friday night [5 February 1943]
This is as good a time as any to write letters. It is ten thirty, and outside the gums are full of the night wind, very low and dark and full of rain.
It’s a cool wind, which is partly why I keep inside instead of standing
watching stars. I’m on guard, hence the midnight soliloquies. And one
gets tired of stars unless in the right company.
I came back from leave; we get forty eight hours after ten days duty, going noon till noon. This was Anniversary day in Auckland. The roads and trams were busy with
the usual crowd one sees now, women and kids going to picnics. It struck me
this morning as I waited for the bus, the terrific difference there is now in
any cross section of society, the gap of men.
And it has taken war to give the common things a new significance. You will
know yourself how mundane objects and situations are invested with a spirit, a
depth, that hits ones conscious mind suddenly, so that one sees them not thru
the traditional glass, but in a new and disturbing light. The land affects me
that way. I find it almost hard to realise that here where cows cross our drill
ground that bayonet dummies are now as much part of the picture as apple trees
or cow droppings.
I imagine that in this I am always unconsciously trying to recapture the past,
though the past is as much part of my daily life as the present. I wonder how
many others are doing the same. Perhaps our whole society carries on that way.
But to what degree[?]
From this camp most of the city can be seen brilliant with street lights by
night as you have known it before. It is an easy compromise this: one is in the
country but still part of the town.
As usual I am still looking to the day when I can get back to the North. From
the back of our place this morning I heard the gulls on the beach, the sound
that moves me like great music. And I’d be one with Faust to be free to
go to the coast and the Kaipara again.
There is little to be said of camp life. Half the time we do infantry work, and
half, pre-entry Air force work, the deadly grind through the assignments. The
infantry I’m afraid hasn’t the same appeal as the artillery had.
Behold the inveterate gunner!
Wednesday last I bought a new sports outfit to be decently dressed on leave.
(You may note that one doesn’t wear B.D. on leave.) A check
sports coat, fawnish without an obtrusive stripe, and grey flannels. Plus tie.
The whole get up made me childishly pleased, so the streets of Auckland may look forward to seeing it, I hope, frequently.
The major part of my personal news concerns the stuff I sent to E.H. McCormick
in Wellington. I think I mentioned it to you before. This week McCormick wrote
to me, a letter that was all I could ask! We agree on general statements about
the works, a healthy sign, though I would quibble over instances he cites.
Perhaps inevitably. But if you will pardon the vanity, I’ll quote with
due regard! – I can’t as the letters not with me. And I
haven’t memorized it yet!
was most encouraging, saying of the poetry that it was “good, fresh, and
passionate” the last not necessarily in the conventional sense!
Extravagance of phrases and ideas leads to obscurity, as I will readily admit.
He says in conclusion, that it is usual to end a critique with “shows
marked promise”, but he would scorn such condescension. He had enjoyed
reading the work, and urged me to carry on to let time give form and depth.
“After all you are your chief critic.”
All of which pleased me greatly, as encouragement goes a long way in view of
present difficulties. It is easier to keep quiet, but God knows why, this is
the only thing I keep hammering at. For what? Not profit most assuredly. Fame?
I doubt it. It seems only to satisfy the urge in me, to write without question.
I’m too tired now to make fun of these pontific nothings, so they must
stand in their lamentable sorry state.
And so to bed, still
Sunday morning 8 [August 1943]
Sunday morning “fate’s great bazaar” and me sitting in the
sun outside the hut. This place gets on my nerves, particularly when I want to
write and can’t which is the way I am at present. I’ll be out of
here soon Thank God, but where is a mystery. But my home address will find me.
letter was most welcome, & disturbing. This neutral army business of the
ground staff irritates me; now I’m safely removed from the firing line
I’m getting quite bellicose. I expect to be in the islands soon, so will
get my guts full no doubt. Give me the chance and I’d be back with the
This course is bloody boring, duller than anything I’ve ever tried.
It’ll be over soon, & then hi ho for somewhere else.
Levin itself is tolerable. The town
reminds me of Dargaville except that it’s cleaner and has fewer pubs. And the
Tararuas look well, the taller back ranges generously snowed. It’s cold, but I’ve known colder. And we have really warm days like
this. But the life is intolerably flat. The damsel I’ve been chasing has
been transferred here from Whenuapai, which is a consolation and a hellish
distraction. Things were bad enough when I used to waste time writing but now I
haven’t the S.M. for hours to snatch a few minutes gossip with her &
get no work done.
Not that I’m growing conscientious. But success in marks means increased
pay, and I can do with that. After two years I’ve saved 25/-.
I’ve actually nothing to write about. The life is comparatively sober,
dull & chaste.
Last month I managed to produce quite a bit: it’s getting better all the
time but it’ll be a long time before I’m satisfied. Which is a good
I was home on a weekend recently, & saw some of Keith Sinclair’s
stuff. He’s made a deal of progress in the last year, but his chief fault is
still his lack of discipline in writing. Not the discipline of
“patterned” verse, mathematical verse, the sort of thing Bill
Burley regards as the be-all & end-all, but the discipline of ideas with
the exact words. For my own part I’m writing largely in formal measures mainly a mixture
of Auden & Yeats, & perhaps for that reason Keith’s work affects
me so. He has a very real talent & when he matures his verse will be worth
reading. It is now, but he is still his chief enemy in that his personality is
a mixture of adolescent and adult, & that leaves his pen. Once he overcomes
that he’ll be right.
Thank you for your good wishes. In these present circumstances it’s
heartening to feel that I’m not alone with what I write. People like
yourself, Bob Lowry, and Phillida Mays give added strength. I hope you’re not backing an
I’ve been doing a lot of rambling thinking this week, much of North Auckland. And since your letter came, of this and that. Do you remember the holly
trees & the paddock we used to play in behind your place? And walking to
Avondale & through Mt Albert one Sunday night a few years back? The Sunday
at Waiheke, and God knows how many Sundays in the ranges, lying in the grass
beside that stump where you tried a stunt photograph? The line of the Manukau
heads, and the run down from Titirangi to New Lynn? Some day we’ll have
that sort of thing again.
That’s the supreme summing up of our attitude to this bloody war. Herbert
Read says “there is no glory in the deed until he wears a tarnished
braid!” and precious little glory then. But
plenty of tarnish.
The wise and journalists who like
to ticket things will have to find another lable [sic] for us since they
ticketed our elder brothers with The Lost Generation. Christ
knows they’re a generation of picnicers [sic] to us who were born after
one war, schooled in the depression, and graduated into the Army.
We have seen virtually all things shattered. We are, those of us who think,
sophists by birth and confirmed in the habit of doubt. What values can we take
as permanent? Precious few out of our way of life. If we go back to the country
and look at the soil for strength, we find it betrayed and betraying. At the
best the humanist spirit of this country, of its roads, its paddocks, hills
crops and waters, is a palliative and not a matter for life itself. I see little
remedy or hope in anything, though I turn more and more to Communist philosophy
as a chance. Chance we must reckon on, since so much has been born from it.
So we must trust—though that’s the wrong word—that the good
fairy will remember us after the war, give us a certain measure for security, a
drop or two of some anodyne to make things right that we may for a while at
least, spit in the eyes of the seven sisters trying to blind them.
Please pardon this bastard of a pen. It’s hell to write with & my
script’s lousy enough at any stage.
I’ve read very little since I came here, and the things that impressed me
aren’t new. I reread Morgan’s “Sparkenbroke”, for which
I have a great admiration. Truth & beauty, and superb prose, though cold. Compare him perhaps to
Elgar; his spirit is essentially and peculiarly English. A little Kipling this week,
who excites and annoys me, and last week two Tchekov plays The Seagull and the
Cherry Orchard, both moving & excellent as burlesque. I refuse to approach
Tchekov with the worship he seems to draw.
I had a letter from home this week, Mum saying that my ginger cobber Nutting at
the Library wants your address, which I’ll send her. Toppy
still has one pup with her—she was in excellent trim when I saw her last.
The family themselves are doing well, mother particularly.
There is nothing more to stick down here. I’ll write again when something
happens and this bloody pen goes better.
Be good and don’t go crazy in the scrub.
AC 2 Smithyman W. K.
A Block A 4/3
Monday night 20th September 
There’s buggar-all [sic] to write about, but as this shows I’m
still alive and more or less active. That is, as active as I’m ever
likely to be. Taking my cue from Petronius Arbiter I shall be content to win to
fame through indolence. The job at the moment doesn’t call for a deal of exertion, which suits
me, and the moral responsibility such as it is, I blithely ignore, a thing for
which I have great aptitude. Life is so much easier if one can develop
indifference to a degree.
Nelson station is a bit boring. One must live on the station on ones own
resources, the books I carry with me, those available in the library (a mixed
bag, sadly mixed), some Nina Nutting sends me, and my own writing. Every time I
write a letter my writing comes into it. Pardon the intrusion, but it’s
the constant factor, the thing that keeps me myself and not just another bloody
erk, one of the bloodless wonders who’ll never see any action. That may sound
like the attitude of those who can wish for service knowing themselves safe but
I don’t think it is. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. However ---------
Do you know Nelson town at all? I like it. It’s complacent, provincial, rather lethargic, not content to
be itself and let time take its course, but aim [sic] to be another Christchurch. It soothes me. Ultimately I suppose it would put me to sleep, which would be
alright providing I didn’t dream.
What is there to tell about the place or the country, except the elections, and
praise God, I’ll spare you them.
kowhai is out here. I have seen a single tree, clumped in some alien dark green
companions, and its sheen was a loveliness for any eyes. It is in a ploughed
paddock which looked, after light rain, how earth should look in spring, rich and
fecund, as moving as the face of a pregnant woman in repose. And over that wet
soil, that yellow blazon. It was good.
The daffodils are in full song, and jonquils and snowdrops, though it’s
two months since they broke through round Levin, and Auckland of course had
them earlier than that. And there are willows that make you smile, with twist
and curl and casual grace of their leaves, and make you laugh at old bald heads
of hammer clusters that are sturdily denying the season and sticking up a
concord of bare branches most arrogantly and stupidly and fondly bare. They
make war seem what it is essentially: a state that will pass, while
mechanically, the earth repeats itself and constantly spreads itself for the
land. And the heart, especially the heart.
Out of all these things comes the
affirmation that someday we’ll go into the Waitakeres again, and find
Waikowhai in September, trail round the wharves—do this and that which are incidentals, but
tremendously important in themselves and in their part. For they all add up to
happiness, and what does any man seek but that? Housman’s ghost is
grinning at me.
dog is in pup again. I don’t feel right away from her. I may be able to
get home next month for my birthday. I hope so. Sentimental in some respects.
to me sometime when you’ve spare time. We must keep [in] touch even,
especially at this distance and juncture. It’s thirteen years now since
we first met. Long time, long way.
I’m becoming ponderous and shall save you that. Give my regards to any
you run across in Necal whose trail I’ve crossed. We’ll drink beer on the back verandah some Sunday morning.
Be good, cherub.
I’m still, regrettably, a gunner at heart.
A Block A 4/3
Wednesday, 29th September. 
My dear Gray,
God knows where you’ll be when this reaches you, the news of NZ army on
Guadalcanal has just been released, though I heard of it earlier. I have as
usual no incidental gossip but may be able to remedy that next week for I think
I’ll be able to get home a while.
You asked in the last letter I
had, for something I’ve written and you shall have it willingly, not that
I seek an audience—my public as you know is bloody small—or that it
may have value in it—it may have, I can’t judge—but it is
sent as reminder that out of this nettle patch there is still at least an
effort being made to pluck some flower, not safety of the original phrase, but
security. The poetry, after all, is security to me. Its so much part of me, good or ill
in its content, that it grows more and more. It’s not always a
comfortable or easy thing to carry, this desire to create.
Since it’s so long that you’ve seen any of these scrawls—and
you have always had a prior right to see them if you wished—I don’t
rightly know what to pick as representative. The styles change with moods and
the cumulative effect of time. So I’ve taken the enclosed because they
seem good to me, or because they mean much to me. And permit me to add these
The “Prothlamion” means
much to me. I think that as a sample of my poetry, it’s good. I like the
images, and the rhythms in it. But its chief value is an association which I
can tell you and hesitate to tell others. Apart from Phil Mays for whom it was
written as so much of this year’s work has been, you’ll be the only
one to have seen it so far. (Even garrulous souls like myself have some
occasional reserves.) The poem was written in Levin, in one of our interminable
lectures on stores; the original copy is on the back of a voucher. But that
night she told me she’d be leaving in a couple of days, so it was one of
the last times I saw her. I haven’t seen her since and Lord knows when I
shall again. (I include all this as
it’s relevant.) So after she told me I gave her this Prothlamion. A
Prothlamion as you’ll agree is a marriage song of sorts, and summoning
all my guts, which were shaking like a hula girl’s hips, I proposed to
her, my only proposal to date. And was most gently turned down. What the hell
would I have to marry on anyway? You’ll see the reason for my attachment.
Spare any one else the above details, angel. I’ll give you a full
description sometime. The memory of the scene makes me laugh and damn near
weep, because regrettably I’m still smitten. It’s always a mistake
to get attached to anyone or anything in war time. But then I’m young and
looks as if I may have the Barrack Wardens job on my hands for a while. The
F/Sgt has a touch of arthritis. The job would mean charge of accommodation,
fuel etc. for the station so I’m praying for the boss’s health.
To continue. The “put down…”
piece is the development of the short lyrical form at which I’ve worked
on and [off] since last year. It has, I hope something of the tone of Yeats’ “Woman young and
but with it my own tricks that make it mine and not just imitation.
These have all been written within the last two months. I’ve nothing
older than these with me. My output is as pretty voluble as it ever was. Not
even routine now can interfere with it. And any one style is a matter of any
It’s raining at present and there are gulls calling. The sea is on the
far side of the field, and those birds make me feel as they always do,
intolerably lonely and hungry for my north. I like it here, but the north is in
me and I can’t get away from it. The rain has made my hand ache in last
year’s break so I’ll spare you more.
hope you have some pleasure from these things. I’ve a long way to go
before I’ll be satisfied with them.
A.C.1 Smithyman W. K.
Thursday 4th November 1943
My dear Gray,
Your letter of the eighteenth came today, and I can’t remember whether
I’ve written within the last month. So if in this I repeat myself,
overlook it. I’m buggered I can ever remember whom I wrote to, when I wrote,
and what I said.
I worked myself leave for my birthday, and landed in Auckland for a damned good
week, and a full one. The principal day was the Saturday when much was
scheduled. Much to the old man’s annoyance he developed gout on the
Friday, and so the beer had to be transported home, a procedure to be favoured.
I had a very quiet evening with Andy and Keith Sinclair. Good beer, good music,
and good talk. Auckland is a superb place. Strangely enough I’m very
struck with Wellington. I don’t know why, for it’s not a patch on Auckland. And yet I like its hills and all.
The routine of this station gives me nothing to write about except the
drivelling futility of this bloody life. Am now in charge of nuts, bolts,
washers etc. a most interesting job. I sit and stare out the window waiting to
be certified. I had a crack at getting overseas as a replacement but missed. I’m so driven to despair
I’m even considering buying a set of golf clubs! The station has its own
links. Conceive me in glory at the eighth hole. I hesitate to think how my game
would react to no swearing, and there’s a bunch of WAAF tagging to wind,
so silence would be the rule. However I consider it.
Under urging from the light of my life—with whom my paper romance
continues—I thought of submitting a bundle of my verses to the
Progressive Publishing Society in Wellington. I saw
them while going north, and the manager was encouraging. I saw Fairburn in Auckland and asked his opinion of my works. He carried them off to Sewell, and both were
encouraging and appeared enthusiastic. F.
volunteered to commend them to the Progressive so I returned to Nelson and
hammered the typewriter and sweated to give my heartthrob a fitting polish, and
then in they went. The selection of work for the Progressive is in the hands of
Prof. Gordon of Victoria and I wait his yea or nay. I’m
not greatly concerned either way, but praise God you’ll yet have the slim
I’ve no comments to make on domestic news, or what happens here. I
don’t read the papers. In fact, I’ve reached the extreme of
boredom, absolute indifference to whatever happens or doesn’t happen.
I’m neutral. Having tied myself in an emotional knot I have now only the
scenery left to enjoy. Send me down a tropic sunset.
The verse continues. Nothing lately worth sending. In short, a bloody poor
correspondent. Maybe I’ll shoot myself and have something to write about.
Be good and be lucky.
Monday night 8th.
candlelight having been transferred to Fairhall, the nearest thing to Army
conditions I’ve yet met in the Air Force. It’s like an Army field camp, all trees, and pastoral scenes. Tall oat
grass outside the hut, and a pump that grumbles and mutters horrible things.
Another stage on my pilgrimage to the loony bin.
I’ve decided to take History II and Political Science this coming year.
God knows how far I’ll get, and what work I’ll do.
When you write, write home. This can be rather a gipsy life.
The trip from Nelson wasn’t hellish exciting, but at least new country to
me. The necessity of anti erosion planting screams to high heaven. And nothing
so far as I can judge is being done by the farmers directly concerned. Black
wattle is a stop gap, and surely procurable. Wattle grows easily, yet the hills
will be done [sic, down?] in the valleys before they act. Man power shortage I
suppose, is part of the answer.
I went to town the other day with a bloke whom the A.F. won’t release. He
has 25,000 acres, and one man on them. Where would he be more value?
I’ve not been to Blenheim yet, so have no remarks. As this is straining
my eyes, [I’ll] copy a poem or two for you and leave it at that.
The country here looks hellish rich, and the cereals seem to be coming the
right way: without premature headiness. Too much stalk maybe, but I’m no
judge. The persistent rain has played hell with conditions in some areas. Not
through flooding. The worst has been in Canterbury, where the lambs started to
lacking, I’ll swing to verse.
The Lazarus outfit is a belated memory of O’Neill’s Lazarus
Laughed, a bloody powerful play, one of his best. I was
going to borrow a Bible & study the legend which rather attracted me for a day
or so. I turned the theme over and then wrote this. The changes in the refrain
indicate something more felt than seen, to me, at least. You may be able to
concoct a feasible explanation. I’m too damn lazy. Why do poets have
critics except to tell the public what is meant.
The other is a mixture of Westland, and Kaipara. Phil
understood it to be the districts round Ruapehu, and felt a Jane Mander note in
it. (She wrote of the Otamatea- Kaiwaka area, beating me to the Wairoa as a
So it seems to have a genuine touch somewhere, though it refers to no actual,
I hope you get some amusement from these. I do.
A C. Smithyman W.K.
3. S. U.
December 10th Friday 
My dear Gray,
Nothing, nothing and nothing. The southwest blows through the willows, the sun
wanders over, and we sleep at night. A little beer and letter writing. Not much
work and bugger-all inducement. The wheat is ripening and I’m decaying
into a beatific phase of inertia, mental and physical. Climate is tolerable,
mess is not; my bed is comfortable, my mind messy when its occasional lift from
torpor shows it to be anything at all. Mainly, this is functionless stupidity.
I’m so much a cog, I can’t see anything of the machine’s
working because I’m still bound to the routine that signifies its action.
Life, in brief, continues on a practically animal plane. ‘Life is real,
life is earnest…” – remember the old bullshit?
The only virtue of this is that military service counts as country service for
teaching. A doubtful virtue.
still manage to have passable matter for reading. Apart from the texts which I
should read and mainly don’t, in traditional fashion, I’ve been
going on stuff from Woodbourne and some Nina sent me from the Point. Included
was Tolstoy’s War and Peace, an excellent sedative. It must
have lost most of its greatness in translation. It’s long, and
that’s about all. Maybe I’m too concerned with the present to
appreciate the past, but I have a sneaking idea that the advocacy of so many
classics is principally hot air. Dickens, Thackeray etc. Their prose, as prose,
is rarely remarkable, and their characters have been equalled. Why are they so
exalted? Particularly the prose men of the last century when so few wrote
decently—de Quincey, Thoreau,
Jefferies [sic] exceptions of course.
went to Christchurch last weekend and had a day there, meeting the crowds of
relatives, I was surprised to find that the young cousins have grown up and
become amiable young wenches. Didn’t you meet Ngaire in Auckland some years ago when I was away from
home in the North. She’s a grand person, would make you an excellent
wife. I commend her to you, but must say that she can’t cook, which is
the principal need in a wife.
will remember the road to Christchurch too clearly to need the blurb with which
I’ve padded this week’s letters. Round Kaikoura it was magnificent.
The sea royal blue, and inshore, the pale jade and strong almost coarse green
that gives me strength. Here in Fairhall, the note is entirely pastoral and I
came there to the sea amazed to find that I had missed it without knowing
until, briefly, it was returned. Inland the constant lure of the ranges,
striding in and out of cloud, revealing a ridge washed with cold colour till
the solidity of the rock went into nothing but a wild and ecstatic play of
light, remote, incredible, arrogant and personless, looking down at the shy
gullies and the Clarence.
Harvesting is on in the plains, and there are neat bales of hay that look oddly
symmetric on the sprawl of the paddocks. It assures me that the natural earth
and the natural life is fertile and that this imposed sterility to which we
must accord, and with it to active destruction, - this is transigent [sic,
transient?] and that sometime we will assume the comparatively good again. Let
us look to the day, and determine to make all of it. One must live, then,
consciously; aware of everything about us and drawing it into us. Which is not
an assertion of the idyllic; that would be obviously false and wilfully wrong.
But it is, I think, a creed to be made aware. Too many of us have made a habit
of living, rather than a constantly renewed experience.
The family at home continue in their way. There’s been no letter for a
fortnight, so I read into the non-existent ones that my mother is unable to
write. Past knowledge.
Pardon the scrawl of this. I’m writing in bed and am a bit tired.
I’ll copy you the thing I wrote today and then sleep. These verses are
the result of a dream I had last night, and now inarticulate chase after a poem
I made in the dream, and of which only one line remained when I woke! The dead
moon could have no stench!
This letter should reach you about Christmas. It won’t be enough to be conventional
and make the usual wishes. After all, I have a certain sense of irony. But I do
sincerely wish you well in the New Year.
Sunday 7th May 
My dear Gray,
Pardon the stationery but I'm on duty. The paper is better quality than most
stuff you can get today anyway, so ignore the associations of Form 20 and
proceed to the substance of this.
Not that there is much or will be much today to this as all my letters. The
poet may give his airy nothings their local habitation, but you
can scarcely make a letter out of nothing, and in this last dismal category I
must put all my doings or not-doings, for nothing I do and I’m virtually
surrounded by a vacuum so far as the import of my actions goes. A noisy vacuum
admitted but as sterile as all vacuums. Nothing with any suggestion of value or
profit comes out of it unless there is value in preserving the lives of our
citizens in the essential industries and the stately homes of suburbia as I’m
alleged to be doing. It shall not be I who strikes a blow in anger against
another citizen of the world. My hide shall be unscarred except for corns on my
arse induced by prolonged sitting. This is a very stale promontory, and no one
like any angel moves on it. We have, admitted, the god-like bearing of our
superior officers, and have from their lips wisdom such as Olympus never knew
but this is poor fare and I for one would never feed on it and thrive. There is
a great coming and going but this citizen stays quietly removed from it,
involved in as little as possible, remote and wrapped in vapid thought,
dreaming of the beauties of Auckland, and not of those alone who move about its
Recently one of your letters remembered a thing or two about the places, the
florists in Customs Street, and the Speckled Cockatoo or Rheumatic Dragon in Vulcan Lane. They’re still there. Auckland hasn’t changed since you saw it last
except that its speech has lost the old purity and we grow rapidly bilingual,
though I confess that I can’t follow all the dialects of our gallant
The place is ridiculous in its attitudes to Yanks. It is an attitude of parts,
ranges from the bloody fool (or wisely commercial?) attitude of the girls who
see through a screen of celluloid a strangely transmuted Adonis bearing gifts.
And against this adulation you have the anti-Yanks, who see no virtue in any of
them, and put their own miserable selves on a dung spattered pillar of
righteousness whence they shall come to judge the wolves and
harlots—whose latter company I prefer. The sane ones—may I include
me?—see them for what they are and select in the way we select from our
has wandered round Auckland and not round its streets as I intended. You can
still smell flowers and earth and clean air in Customs Street, and Maclure
still smells of sausages and sets out his bulletins. And after Queen St., when the petrol soaks the air, you can still go down by the launch steps and take
all you want of that queer mixture of sea and pitch and the waterfront. The
ferries run, and Cleopatra rides between Devonport and Takapuna with music
amidships, which is after all, not so far from the prow. And in a quiet arbor
in the Domain the Valkyrie rides and the loquats ripen down the hill.
fortnight or so back I had to go into town on Sunday morning and I thought of
you. I left the tram at the Farmers just as the rain started, very light and
delicate but penetrating. I stood at the side door, the last under the verandah
across from the car park and looked out over markets and the harbour to
Northcote, with the squall blowing across Shoal Bay, and the bells starting in
St. Pat’s and St Mathew’s [sic], coming down benignly, not too
solemn, very pleasant and drowsy as if the churches were sleeping in their
formalism. The air was fresh and the streets were clean, and while I waited the
clouds broke over the shore, coming blue with that emphatic washed blue of all
its purity of colour you know, and one by one, in different streets, on
different heights on the hillsides, the houses across the harbour stood up into
the sun until everything sparkled and moved. I went down past the I.M.B. to the
Kauri Timber [Co.], and eventually round to the Western Wharf.
The old ‘Lyttleton’ [sic] is lying against the wharf.
Subritzky’s have bought her and are cleaning her up to make a houseboat
of her. She is decrepit now with her wood-work unpainted and battered, but she’s
sound. The pool had the usual quota of scows launches etc. and a sizeable
The markets were quiet that morning and deserted. I walked straight back to
town and took a tram.
Those queer little shops around the place are pretty much the same, God only
knows how. The antique shop in Upper Queen St. carries on, and the record shop
next door with records no one will ever buy. The junk in the window never seems
to change, yet presumably it does. But year after year there’s the same
plate with the rosary beads looped in front of it and the fake Chinese vases
and the poor furniture and the desolate dull oil-paintings to which some peculiar
[credence] is given since the note says ‘Genuine oil painting’. Who
will ever pay money for oils alone? The pictures are drearily bad and dull. The
junk shop near the Town Hall has closed down or gone elsewhere and no cat sits
at the door now. The trams go up past the Y.W. [C.A.] and I’ve looked at
the names along the narrow street that curves up into Liverpool St. I
haven’t been there for years. The memory is enough for me.
Alongside Parkinsons marble works in Symonds St a little shop is full of
man’s destiny, rooted in prophesy, and offers anyone who cares the key to
the ages of British Israel, the past explained the future determined, and
Armageddon predicted in phrases just a little bit clearer than the windows of
the prophet. Neither the future nor the past is bright.
the hill, going by the Grafton Library is a small plumbers and in it that most
glorious of all porcelain thrones, a sufficient glory for any honest lavatory,
not as exotic as those recorded in Reginald Reynolds Cleanliness and
Godliness—an excellent book—but
fine enough for me, for I could squat in simple pleasure above the dazzling
butterflies and blossoms of its bowl. Come hail, come rain, you could always
have a pastoral scene in the home, and a scene complete with private water,
riparian rights of a particular sort. Do you know the shop? Do you know the
bowl? You shall see it in my home and I promise you, you may enjoy its peculiar
They are good things to see, the
little shops of our Auckland. Earth has not anything to show more fair. They are
full of the essential pathos and humour of our humanity, and it is a sadness
and comedy a department store can never have. What would Court’s know of
the life in Kitchener St. with the shop painted green, curtains in a window
that is more a window than a shop front, where heavy old plates squat in the
sun falling across from Bowen St., and the card in the window invites people to
knock and enter? Or what does the Herald remember of Ronald Holloway’s
print shop next door,
with the old hand-printed Bible in the Latin, pulled from the Press when
Charles was misshaping the affairs of England and Cromwell was a squire? Or the
Christian Science shop where I learnt electricity was not one of the vital
fluids, and that those who keep error from their minds are safe from sin, its
wages, constipation, chilblains or the pox?
The back streets are truer than Queen St. The big shops are false, the
unassimilated horrors of our way of living, based on a pretence and condoned by
us in denial of respect for natural values. You could meet Dr Johnson in Courthouse Lane and call him brother, and Blake could talk with the Lamb of God outside the
locksmith’s whose name is Hyauison. We are still human and heirs to the
past while there is dust in Albert St and the plane leaves are stowed in
gutters before the University. Somehow these things will be preserved, and some
will go. There will be a time when there is order in the yards around Parnell
Rise, and decent houses in Nelson Street. The rain will fall then and the sun
will wash over and we may, in some measure, have come into our heritage.
I’ve no gossip except this tattle about the city. It may help to keep you
out of the war a moment or two and turn back your exile.
All my good wishes,
14 Boscawen St.
Sunday 16th July 
My dear Gray,
Pardon this silence. I’m no good for writing these days, too bloody stale
and flat, and all run-out. The family are poorly, mother progressively worse,
and the old man intermittently sick. Myself, going steadily crazier and duller
in the service monotony.
Bob Lowry is home. I went out to his place last night and came home this
morning determining to write this, looking around for things to tell you.
I’ve no suburban gossip so must give you the city again. It was the sort
of thing I used to want. In a way it’s a reassurance of some value, more
or less constant to you, the value of the commonplace which is
sanity—that is, if we are to postulate peace as being sane and war an
hysterical condition in our society. Not fully valid as a basis of reckoning
but something is needed, if only an approximation to standard. We can never
have total sanity in the present system; we have never had more than
approximate communal reasonableness, only maladjustment, appeasement at best,
at worst despair generation by generation. Yet that is our background, and for
all its fault, deficiency and defect both. It gives us our relief, not
sovereign but something to attain out of your and my service restrictions.
The fog was about this morning, walking on the harbour. From Grafton Bridge I looked down Anzac Avenue and saw the tower of St. Andrew’s standing
solidly out on a neutral swirl, so you could not tell where there was water or
where only the mass of the fog. The tower was worth seeing! It is one of our
few buildings, St Andrew’s on Constitution Hill, one in harmony giving
and taking something in its position. It’s almost elegant, - do you
agree? in the eighteenth century meaning.
The trees along Symonds St. were bare and black, the winter blackness of these
pale early mornings, as if they had been fired and could have no resurrection.
They are in a cemetery, but they don’t mourn. Beyond them is the red
scrabble of houses going out along the Newton gully, not changing, still dingy
and inadequate and certainly never to have resurrection. Yet there is value in
them, potential more than positive. I must go to the Domain this week and look
at the trees there stripped for winter’s imperious love bed. It is their
cleanness and potency we want in us and won’t get. Their stimulus and
their power—their adequacy? Is that what I want to say?
The Princes St planes are brushed up now with that late afternoon bronze and
purple that you saw from the library at school. I sat there—how many
years ago?—as you would have done and saw the drops of rain sliding
brilliantly down the tram wires and the tangle of colour beyond.
Coming along Surrey Crescent I had one of those flashes that give you the
spirit of the town, so that suddenly you see familiarity as something strange
and excitingly new—houses at Owairaka or
Sandringham getting a blaze of sun, weak but emphatic while all the suburbs
round were brooding and shivering under the grey. And then the Point laid out
like an architect’s model—miniature and distant and as if I had
been away and was now returning to something remembered out of exile. The
ranges were under the clouds, the shape of Te Atatu calm, everything waiting.
But what are they waiting for? I feel alien here whence I must be unsettled.
The Germans had dark gods in their forests but we have only shadows. The gods
won’t walk here.
I send New Writing 3 with this and the family’s good wishes. The
coffee is boiling for you. Be good.
Saturday night 6th January
My dear Gray,
I am writing this in my room, the verandah door open against the
evening—it is still light outside and very still—having made my
self comfortable on an old mattress piled in the corner by my table and
bolstered up with a couple of cushions. The farce of this embarkation training
has begun today; elements of the rifle, machine gun etc. The necessary
futilities of our life.
feel as if I have been here too long. I’ve not been good at waiting at
any time as you know and I would rather have gone sooner than hang around in
the fashion of the last few weeks than have had this dragging that saps one so
desperately, this awkwardness of waiting and being unable to do anything or
make any start since everything is qualified by the nameless place and the
dates of our future. I went out on the train a day before time having misread
the leave pass. And then returned again yesterday. I realised once more today
that I am now more at ease back in camp than I am at home. One can largely put
aside responsibilities in the anonymity. Things seem there to happen through a
veil; their importance is transmuted, somehow modified to the impersonal. It is
something civilians cannot understand. There is a definite gap between us who
have seen service, even in degrees, and the total civilian. They, outside us,
may have sympathy but they cant understand.
regret this waste of time as you know. Particularly now. Not that I regret this
going away. I want to go. I feel that otherwise I would be cut off from
experience that is so big a part of the life of the people of this country, of
friends like yourself whom I have grown with and if there is anything in me as
a writer, I must know what that experience is. It is now necessary.
The particular awkwardness of the moment I cant avoid. The writing comes first.
Two days back I had a letter from Max Harris of the Angry Penguins in Australia—you’ll remember the Ern
I’ll be printed in the next issue. I’ve seen the advance copy of the current issue. The magazine is without
doubt the finest that has been printed in this part of the world. It is really
good. And I’ve broken in there. So bloody what?
And now Bob tells me that Frank Sargeson wants some mss from me, for possible
inclusion in a proposed collection of NZ prose that he is doing. Bob
showed him some of my stories recently and he’s apparently interested.
then there is the projected book. Which I wont be here to attend to in any way.
typing. It is damnable.
Going out in the train the other day I went through all the feeling that you
will know. The irritating familiar things alongside the track, the lumber
yards, the breweries, the glimpse of the sea and the ranges grey with rain and
mist. And the casual glimpse of the main street of the town where I lived
practically unchanged since I was a kid. It all seems to be unreal. We have the
curse of circumstance on us and everything we touch is somehow tainted. It is
hard to find permanent values in the time when we need them most. They are in
our memories I suppose. And are those memories illusions? Are we to go always
looking back to childhood in search of something to affirm when we should be
affirming the evidence of every minute for tangible beauty and health and
fertility? Are we still young only to have memory to sustain us?
It is profitless to explore this. When we meet again we will be different
people. However you will know that wherever you go my best wishes will follow
you and that we will sometime have more fortunate stars to look down on us as
we walk and argue. Good luck, Gray, maybe some of the past is worth
AC 1 Smithyman W
31st January 
My dear Gray,
Not so many
years ago we had a surfeit of Shelley and neo-Romanticism going on Sundays to
look for the Castle of Otranto within the limits of too respectable suburbia. If we
saw an empty house it meant Poe and thumping hearts under the floor boards. If
we saw a genuine stone ruin the meaning was too prosaic as I can think only of St Thomas’ and the folly of Selwyn.
But here I have stone ruins that havent an atom of religion about them but
could, if they still had floors, support more than one restless heart. The Air
Force has landed me where there are ruins, where there was tragedy and possible
comedy, where there is still comedy since the administrative centre is itself a
ruin today, and where the islanders are all that are left of the ruins of the
Bounty crew. The people are alive and in some
ways living with the dead whose blood has left them a measure of sorrow that
shows in their faces and has given them dignity beyond any you could expect.
The past is very much alive here. The convict buildings stand. Families
live in them. Government is run from stone four storey blocks where the plaster
is peeling to expose the stones and the windows are broken while the
trivialities of officials goes on in rooms below. Kingston, the centre, is
mainly a place of stone buildings, a village set just back from the sea on the
flat under the low steep hills. The pier is all stone. The Pacific hits against
it and sweeps in from a welter on a reef not far out. Off shore is a
magnificent barbaric island splashed with wild colour, barren and high and
shelter for the bay. A few trees grow there but not in the clumps you find
through the valleys and on the farm crests. The pines are straight in the
evening when I see them for then I am free from the store.
I walked down to Kingston last night, going on roads that were damnably dusty
and like the back roads of the North. The island is much like North Auckland.
You have the same valley slopes and chiefly to remind me, many of the grasses
are those that grow at home. There are paspalum, rats tail, cocksfoot and
prairie. The cows on the hills could very well be grazing at Katui, even to
those meandering at the roadside. But Katui doesn’t grow bananas over the fences nor have taro in the soggy
patches near streams. The valley floor at Kingston is wide. The fences are well
back on one side though they follow the road on the other. A tired stream from
a well goes down to the sea but doesn’t seem to get there. It gave up the
idea long ago and rather than waste its water it grows a delicate plant
something like grape hyacinth in cluster, but much larger and with open shallow
flowers. Like hyacinth the flowers are a heliotrope and the leaves thick and
fleshy. Mares in foal stand up to their knees and stare at you just as you
stare at them. The boy with me last night mentioned centaurs and as we walked
I’d like to think it was a primitive memory stirring. Greece gave the world those centaurs and all the Hellenic culture was built on slave labour. We came
round a bluff to stand over the lines of the slave settlement that gave shape
to this island.
The sea brought those poor bastards here to the greater glory of the Empire.
They must have tried to repudiate the ocean for the sea wall they built has
kept its line though weakly along the sand beside the pounce of the breakers. A
chain or so back the walls of the old penal settlement are broken by the winds
and open to the stock that wanders through where men must have hoped for animal
freedom. The jail is totally abandoned. The tops of the walls are clipped by
bottle fragments and mean nothing. Don’t imagine that this was a small
jail. The walls would be about two hundred yards along the bay. They are still
impressive. The soil there must now be stained with the hunger of the lives
that were clipped within that stretch of stone.
There are houses close to the jail. Two of them have families and the washing
on the lines in the yard and the aerial for the radio hitched from a corner of
the wall are not right; every one has gone from here and these people cling to
the sea front as interlopers when there should be silence and the sea and the
wind. A silly attitude to take, I admit, Gray. But I feel that way. The pier
sticks out and spray falls over the crane arm back to the run of the salt water
across the other side of the paved top and you look beyond the stone of the
pier to the stone of the island off-shore or the lovely grim curve of the
landward cliffs. All the blood seems to be drained out of the place and you
wonder whether the living contest with the dead. And as they live they will be
stronger, but will the horror of that past be too much for them sometime and
they will breed children in defiance of a power they do not feel and they in
turn will breed and the lack of dignity and the rights of the convicts will be
too much and some day some one will see it and the knowledge will blind them
and they will be called mad? The sea will still be running and the spray will
taste salt on their lips and they will not know if it is the sea or tears for
The houses look at the sea. Glass falls from the frames and cats scuttle up
trees when you go near. They are old houses it is almost an impertinence to
enter them. A light shows through their window softly as lamplight always shows
at evening. The wind touches you and the touch is alien and raw. Back of the
flat are the houses of Kingston where people live together maybe because they
need company from an alien ocean.
The administrators house is on a knoll apart from the village. The living
places straggle towards the tip of the bay to the south; there are I suppose
fifteen or so of those houses, some in stone and some in wood. A road goes up
into the hills and I cant tell you anything of it or where it leads since I
haven’t been on it. Across that brown thread of road another wall begins,
the wall that covered the administrative centre and the chapel. Both the big
buildings are broken and desolate and both are used; at least one is used.
I’m not sure of the chapel though it has a bell rampant on the roof top.
The walls cover them from the sea wind though they were raised by grimmer
needs. At the corners you find the bulge of towers and they are
mullioned—that is, they are slotted for defensive fire—and the gate
way is arched, the wood of the gates still solid. Inside the gates is a small
crude office. Over the door a notice says emphatically This is NOT the Post
Office but there you can carry out most of any business that you would want. On
the mass of the verandah of the big place you ask for dignity but in another
dingy office you could get only stamps to send letters to the desolate world of
the dreary decay of imperialism of which the building is the most complete of
symbols. This is fallen imperialism. Men who forgot humanity planned this
settlement. The disease appears to linger. Government is perpetuated. It would
be easy to turn anarchist here.
Kingston may be all memory but the veins of the highland are throbbing. There we live and
from a tent I write this just after sunset. I have been here little more than a
week. The months will temper my feeling for the place. It is after all exile
from home but it is a place of strange beauty. I like the place and will carry
on liking it. To be free of the Air Force is a dream that time will turn to
fact. Until then we must take our compensations and exploit them. The gods, it
is said, never strike with both hands. So far as service goes I have been
luckier than a good many. On a free day I can go where I have been already and
find relief there for a while. Last Sunday I sat on the cliff edge above the
sheer fall to the sea and the bosun birds whistled
past and the grass was warm and the war and all its bastardry was a long way
Having no privacy makes it damn hard to write but the training of the last
years is bearing fruit. I can now work while there is an argument and radios. I
have finished four thousand words of story that I may expand. And I have more
to get on with. The poem I enclose is obviously written for you. It is
discursive and rough. I send it as it now stands and trust that you will have
it with a measure of time to read and remember. There will be much water under
the Meola bridge before we walk the beach again. I was
thinking yesterday of the swans at the Springs and the willows.
Now I’ll copy the poem and then browse through Saroyan. I still
find difficult realities significant futilities.
MacCormack [sic] sings Drink to me and the boy in the tent over the way is
echoing him softly.
Goodnight, sweet prince.
LETTER FROM APO 356 TO APO 700
Here men raise
monuments, dances are held
to buy a citizen
a wooden leg;
ration’s issued twice a month—
Bond Days they
call those Saturdays when
can be officially drunk for tea.
The pines across
the hills are shaped with sun
sharp and symmetric
of the evening sky. I write,
Graham, to you
from this part hut part tent
where war is now
inconsequent except to move
spaces and the tides propose
subtle the tap
of death on certain occasions
for which no
text book ultimately provides.
Here men raise
monuments, indifferent shapes
from the prosaic
stone to tell of time
of previous war
that never came so close
though now the
island is a rear objective,
call to the
northing plane that seeks the sun
over the strip
of beach where convicts died.
about the roads parading
wander in gigs.
Their tired and sweaty horses
pass by a heifer
dead in a difficult drain.
The citizens to
whom the stone records
a life, a death
not in the least important
statistic in a foreign world
look glumly to
Also there is a
stone above some rocks
drowned. And these not needed
stand in alleys
or lean to the wind from slopes
where very record brushes through the grass
torment so many lives
for which in
aggregate you wouldn’t give a damn
but which is now
affair that burns steep to the common
heart of all the
people, those who have made
more green each
solemn valley, who felled their trees
and we the
living strangers now involved
floors brushing aside the flags
to lay a hand on
the shoulder of their past
exile, summer and fallen harvest
come from the
prodigious south to present duty.
Here men raise
monuments. You walk a bay
of sea walls, bathing by rocks
out from a penal
settlement to note how time
searching for reason
in Italy, the other rolled in Pacific surf.
We who have
taken tourists pose on sand
are maybe heirs
to those whose blood is still
the blood of
islanders who starved and cut
shape from the
inland valleys to the sea,
the shape of
lives were given texture by
sorrow, deprivation and protest
where the island
looks north to summer now
or winter swirls
up latitudes and cools
memory but not
the remembered man.
For now we share
all the Pacific’s winds
the great high
temper of these lonely hills
thrust from the
ocean to be harbour for
the squat bomber
passing or the coursing gull?
And you from Italy may turn to stare
on the stripped
course of history, on the roads
that class room
books recorded but could give
their age no
touch of life so it must seem
there is no link
between caesar and fascist.
Too much of the
past can die and be denied
irrelevant under the strain of tongues
under those feet
that climb familiar paths
picnics or spotting artillery posts.
slope has been so common to
living or the most casual dead
nothing may be
important now that cannot
be termed part
of the theme of action, of
your business of
destroying to produce.
To islanders in
this bland flowing south
what has gone
must always be immediate; at least
for us within
our own located land
we still put out
feelers to test the course
swaying men and women. The hoarse
weave of those
streets, the surge of cars by shops
trams still cannot quite assure;
our river drowns
us flooding us with time
issues and with consequence.
makes numbers of its men
yet they remain
more men than ciphers, thrown
against the guns,
the desert tanks, this air.
strength upon this soil
themselves to be a people born
into new world
from hard laws imperative
many hutched beneath
the neutral roof
of duties could take heart
these roads that were set round
remove from all those dreams
of older streets
and skies and older ways.
was cruel but they lived.
To some the
fathers names are legends in the world:
Christian are those ‘Bounty’ names
Which in revolt
proved that common humanity
may win over the
system that breaks down.
the islanders live on
bound by their
heritage to be in the world
ignore them until strategy
paddocks with its transitory
mask of affairs
and garrisons pitched tents
fresh to the sea
winds shaded by the pines.
And so I write
to you whom distance plans
stranger to this place though far
from homes where
we projected trips and stunts
we whom small
dreams abandoned to more large
not of exploring
but of plain return.
AC I Kendrick Smithyman
Equipment Section RNZAF
Friday night 13th
My dear Gray,
Three weeks back
your letter came and since then I have planned to answer, planned to do this
and that and a little of the planning has been carried out. I have been lazy as
you know I can be. I have also been bored and frustrated and generally tired of
the way of living, though as active service it has a great deal to commend it.
But over everything hangs the stultifying effect of boredom, the monotony of
service life and the slow drag of exile from New Zealand at a time when I would
most want to be there. The news from home as you would expect is not good. My
father has done magnificently (for him) in writing to me but my mother writes
seldom and then very little. Dad apparently hopes to get her into hospital
again for the nursing that she needs so much and has not been able to get. It
is a hellish drag on him. And though I have never been able to do much, even
that has gone now and he must rely entirely on the good offices of the
neighbours. The old difficulties are in the way; his deafness and sickness, his
irritability and the need of rest. For my mother there has not been any let up
at all. There is always the pain and the cumulating weakness. You saw that for
yourself a while back, and I sit here wasting my time.
myself there isn’t much to say so it will be stretched as far as I can
get it. You know generally what the island is like if you ever got my letter.
The summer is escaping from the south and the cold settling at home I imagine.
Here the guavas are bearing still, growing wild at the roadside and wandering
their thin branches over the slopes. The lantana still flowers, bananas ripen
and the months drag on. We have been abandoned for weeks by the legendary
Pacific weather, been slapped by winds and lost in fogs, our horizons drawn in
dull drifting mist and the smudges of trees lying strangely through that screen
and then coming out clean and sharp and then again lost. The tents have grown
clammily mildewed for the fog didn’t bring really cold weather though the
night wind could bite as we sat in the paddock watching the films. In the store
my leathers have all taken fur on them and then the sun has come back and the
days have been sticky and then fog comes back. So we go on, drifting through
time and fog and sun and waiting for the return each in our own way, not
wanting it particularly and then suddenly being acutely aware of memory and the
nearness and the farness of the island in the south. I looked north recently
from a point on the north shore, north to the island you know well and beyond
that to the twisted blank of the other islands where you sweated. And all I
could see was the seaward shadows of rain trailing and smooth blank cloud and
then fog turning back here. It is part of our condition.
On that point here I lit my pipe and stared out seaward, there is a stone much
eaten by the wind off the rocks below and the bite of salt and a century. It
stands for two warders drowned at that spot. Drowned the best part of a century
back, one 26 years old and the other 22 years. So I now, the age of one in a
different age can stand and look on the same ocean, aware of its moods that are
beyond our chronology, aware of the rocks where the pied birds are blown like
scrapped paper, and in a manner know the essentials of his life.
The letter was abandoned last night for a drifting argument on literature with
one of the boys. This morning it will be interrupted for intervals of washing;
my clothes are stewing in tins outside the tent. I have a pathetic faith in
washing by this habit of soaking. The main defence of the habit is its ease.
Its effectiveness I ignore. I’m no housewife and bloody sure no
laundrymaid. No domestics for me.
The writing has kept on
sporadically and even with more result than when at home. The interference of camp
life has been circumvented to a degree and every so often I haul my finger out
and get away a story or two. I sent one story to Frank Sargeson and had a mild
word of encouragement from him and once in a while have a note from Bob Lowry.
The last from him said he would be starting printing shortly, which means
any time with him dependent on finance and energy, and expects to be sending me
proofs shortly. He is going to bring out a bunch of stories first and later some of
The possible profit from one may cover the certain deficit from the
other. I sold an Air Force story to Korero and may send them another. Angry
Penguins haven’t printed the bunch yet which they took last year but have asked
for more (which they got smartly) but I should have more words from them within
a week or two. Unlike the Progressive they respond to things. I still
haven’t had an answer from that bunch of Wellington bastards. They can get stuffed for me.
Even if they do pay relatively well they can still get stuffed. Rex Fairburn has some
poems that he may use in Arts in NZ but they’re free. I am
getting commercial minded. One of these days I’ll start on my threatened murder story and then my soul
will be damned.
Keep your eyes open for me. I may
want all your description of the local scene someday. It’s a pity
Hemingway beat me to the Italian scene.
There is damnable little to tell of
anything here. Short of a tourist pamphlet, there is nothing. We have monotony
and nothing more. I don’t even bother to drink all my weekly beer. A bad
state of things.
Tomorrow night there should be a musical
recital of ballet stuff. The AEWs sponsor it. The
programs so far as I can see are made up of rejects from the NBS for which
small and scratchy mercies we are duly humble. Only once since being here have
I heard anything worth while and that was the Swan of Tuenola [sic]. But
praise God we have a fine library and I profit by that, getting a deal of
reading done that I should have done earlier and working happily through
several classics to get some fashion of education. I feel that I profit more
from that than I would from doing extra mural degree which I am going to leave
till the dim days of after the war. This last week I have read Flauberts Bovary
and Salammbo and now am doggedly plugging at Proust.
Characteristic maybe but I start in the middle of the Remembrance of Things
Past and will be entertained by the mans interminable sentences if the opening
of Swanns Way, a juicy interlude of sodomy, is any prospect.
But I miss the evenings of Auckland, the talk that you could get there. I am afraid that I may go rusty as far as
critical thought goes for there really aren’t any minds here to sharpen
mine on. Too seldom I sit and talk to some point on anything more than highly
elaborated sex and plain bitching.
However we will have something left to go
back to though we will have to learn again to listen to music and to give full
value to the values by which we live, to poetry and music and art. After these
years it will all have to be relearnt. It is, for us, reshaping realities after
the arbitrary realities of the services, the abnegation and denial of the past
which we wont be able to deny totally. And I am scared that the values of that
post war community aren’t going to be too pleasant. Crying wolf maybe,
but I really think that things will be sticky, not only economically but
socially and it will be necessary to fight like hell to assert the values that
matter most to us.
And that is enough prophesy [sic]
for the moment.
Once more to this in hopes of getting it finished or
at least in sufficient shape to get away tomorrow. So to this I’ll add a poem or
two to amuse you in the Italian wilds and then commend myself to the music recital
scheduled for tonight.
Your note on poets ignoring the islands
seems to be reasonable.
Anticipating this idea—Rupert Brooke got in a
lot earlier anyway—I
wrote these soon after I came here. Lately I’ve done too much prose to bother much with
verse.I’m lacking a theme anyway and the chance to
The European war may be finished when
you get this. I sincerely hope it will be done and that you will not be too
long getting back to the mediocrity of Auckland and the familiar streets. For
that, and for what they are worth, I send you as ever my best wishes and a
Salud: that being the only greeting that I know that in this time of duplicity
stood sincerely for a decent program and the best of common endeavour.
Naturally, it was the cry of defeat measured by one term, and of victory that
mattered if you care to measure it by the hard and enduring values of our
AC I Kendrick Smithyman
Equipment Section RNZAF
Sunday morning 29th April 1945
My dear Gray,
have brooded on your letter since it came about a week back; that is, on your
serial letter. The two instalments arrived at the same time, one of the minor
wonders of this year. So now considering all things I sit in the sun as it
leans through the open front of the tent and think of you and of Italy and of
home, of the permanent things in our lives and of the transient and of the
people to whom the permanent have been seen through the dark glass of this
reality of war and been distorted so far that permanence has been lost and they,
those friends have lived in an abiding present which has nothing to offer them
as they had nothing to offer but their lives. You can come only to doubtful
conclusions by such thought. Our generation has been fed on doubt. Only the
fool had certainty. And there are such degrees of folly that certainty was lost
under the curt pressure of reality, of economics and emotion. Now it is
important that we should be certain, firstly sure of ourselves and reconciled
to ourselves and then of the community in which we are bound and of the
establishment of positive values and attitudes in that community. You’ll
notice I say ‘should be certain’ because I doubt if we will. We
have grown on cynicism since the man who has expected the worst was not often
disappointed. Our time after all was supreme with duplicity and oppression and
denial and potential good always frustrate. But out of the cynicism and the
sophistry of those we knew who were cynics, but not from reason, and were
sophists, and didn’t know they were, I think we have seen the growth
almost independent of their personalities of qualities that can give hope for
us as there always has been hope in however [sic] and acute condition of our
people. Not that hope has ever come to much. But I say this, being aware, that
if from the sophistry we can have the incidental heroics (isn’t the term
justified, in virtue of the tragic nature of present circumstance?), that we
can have the wilful eclipse of personality in violent death, then equally we
can look for such denial directed to a positive end. That end for me is the
reconstitution of our community, the ending of sickness and the beginning of
But what if that wilful movement to violence is the extreme of individualism,
the total negation of self as a semi-autonomous being in the great web of
social relations by the act of violent death? What if my argument leads me to
conclude that we can show strength only by positively looking for death since
there is nothing positive in living: That our society is rampant with the
disease of history, the wish to die: That we can be reconciled to ourselves
only by action, and that action at once impersonal and supremely personal, that
the only productive motive for acting must be amoral and unethical, and in the
ultimate, blind and arid. Will we be always blocked by the dark glass of
history and irrevocably qualified by the past, responsive only to the present
when we move to cut ourselves free of time and shatter the glass by bursting
into death? So again I am without a conclusion. The troubles of our community
are in the individual. To heal all we must heal each one and the process of
that healing is always blocked since any action presupposes a good condition, a
pendulum swing between acting and suffering, with the action no action and the
suffering the total agent, since the good condition in the community must be
there to give a mechanism for the individual to be bettered and the individual
must be sound before such a condition can be attained in the community. We are
defeated by ourselves before we start. We were defeated before born. And we sown [sic] the seeds of disaster when we [were]
not aware as we could never be aware, ignorance being essential in us. To be
otherwise would be ‘to
reach a degree of self
consciousness of which mankind has never been capable, and of which, if
attained, it might perish.’ That is Eliot, saying not quite what I want
The prospect as I see it is damnably grim. I am not a prophet huddling my
abstractions round my neck in an aloof retreat. I am very much involved in
this, thinking of these things on a fine Sunday morning when the camp is
relatively quiet, when the shadows seep through the trembling veil of the
lantana and the pines on the skyline stand straight and metrical and still. We
are in the community, a specialised community and whatever is done to me is
done to you, we are both yet individuals and two of the same kind. I am
concerned with this abstract of individualism because the character of that
contract is my character as it is yours and or every one we meet and those we
shall never meet since we are of consequence to the people of tomorrow just as
the dead are important to us now. Remember Donnes phrase…I am involved in
mankind? Mankind is a timeless term useless to the sociologist since it is a referent
without bearings but it is an important term to us in the mesh of being where
the stream of time drowns us and the past and the future and the hypothetical
‘now’ are all significant words, but not more than words. Mankind
takes in every aspect of time and place.
Gray, speaking to you I hope I speak for you as well as for myself. Your letter
I think is to blame for this discourse. Or perhaps it was the mixing of beer
and rum last night that left nothing this morning but a curious feeling of
suspension and makes it hard to write this letter when I could easily sit and
watch the clouds drifting and let the sun claim me. Responding to that letter I
think as you have the thought of the past, the relevant past of the past of the
last few years and the total of the things seen and done in New Zealand since
they have been important to us and of them, out of our considerations of them
we can assess ourselves as we stand in relation to that country. It is a good
place. It is lovely and harsh and raw in my north. It is bleak in the guts when
you look from the dark of carriage on the main Trunk and see the cold loom of
the hills and the random lights of Waiouru. You may
hear the morepork; is there anything more tuned to the night than that
melancholy calling coming out of the trees when you hear as well the stir of
cattle or the faint coastal mutter of the surf? We have seen the night over all
the islands. We have smelt the night wind and watched moonlight flooding down
across the running farms and the steep bend of rivers. Or have known the
friendly tang of salt on our lips and the roughness of lava under our feet
coming back with pippies [sic] from the reef with all the mudflats and the afternoon
before us and the thin blue haze lay on the Ranges and the swings in the
Reserve squealed and the couples lay together at the edge of the grass. We have
been made by such things as we have been made by an old photograph found in
the tin box in the front room and knowing that this was Grandfather have
wondered just what the hell he was like and if the austere and I think lovely
face of my grandmother was lifted to his in more than duty. And we
have been in love, distantly and shyly and later emphatically have thought
Jesus what did I see in her and known again that we are strangers to ourselves
and have maybe only the common factor of a constant name to bind us to the boy
who was then going to school, detesting maths, depressed by French and queerly
quickened by words on paper and excited until the use of words was very
important. And we have fallen in love again and called it off because we were
going into the Army and didn’t want to have any entanglements when and if
the Army claimed us properly (as it did.) And we have been about places and
heard gunfire and watched the blight of uniforms settle on quiet paddocks and
seen tanks parked in the cool shadows of hedges and watched a long trail of
lorries and cars and guns come down a highway out of low hills and go away to
manoeuvres. We have known sweat in the darkness of a strange room and
whispered in a double bed and heard outside and all around the tap of time.
Everything has been qualified by time. We have grown up and gone about and done
this and that and have had friends and said So long to them and wondered and
found the answer in the paper a year or so later and felt bad about their
deaths for a while and then largely accepted them as inevitable but still
remembered the waste. We have been made from love and despair and casual things
and things with sudden and surprising importance.
Just now as I wrote one of the boys came in and asked me to give him the words
of Masons On the Swag.
So I typed them and one or two more of Masons verses and lay back trying to
think exactly of the words when Chris came running in and told us that Frisco
had announced the surrender of the Germans and I said Jesus and thought Now
what the hell is that next line. The report may be abortive as the report of 9th
November 1918 when there was a false armistice announcement. We know so little.
What is happening to you as I write? What is happening in Germany? Outside the tent and outside the camp the island is quiet. A rooster crows
persistently and the heat of the afternoon walls in the gullies and the hills.
This may be peace. So what?
went into camp December 1st in 41. For two months I was out with a
broken hand. The rest of the time, here and there. You came to Hopu Hopu while
I was there. I remember that and the stillness sometimes at night, just at
Lights Out with the bugler of the Mounted Rifles blowing the Post, the chords
coming slowly and clearly down the lines and you could feel the sleep of the
men in that camp settling on the canvas. The heel smack of marching men on the
roads, the most deadly sound I know, the insistent smack of boots going down
together. You have asked Why these things, the casual sights, the casual
doings. In them there is the value of our living when we have come most truly
to patriotism, into loving the country and the way of it and its potential. I
had that feeling one evening at Te Kauwhata, looking out over the swamps to the
strip of the Waikato where we had bathed probably late that afternoon, looking
that night coastwards over the swamp country we were marking for war and
finding then inexplicably and most movingly the great natural affection for
that country and for all that was unseen. And deciding then that maybe the land
and the people taken together were worth while. What have we seen? What were
the things that matter?
was the flat calm, a cold calm of early morning when I first landed at Nelson
and saw half clear the long line of the Boulder Bank, the lighthouse and the
mute gulls blowing far away over the bay. The steel morning and the cold, the
wooden quiet of the wharf and the splatter of houses up the cliffs. There
was calm water in Tory Channel and a diving porpoise and the dry hills steep up
from the sea and the split rocks at the open water and black specks of mutton
birds low down on the break of the waves. There were the green waves and Terawhiti and a long clean vista
from Paekakariki with the hump of Kapiti marking the ends of Ivan Cummins short
and not notable life.
There were the river beds from Otaki to Shannon and beyond Palmerston and
moonlight falling into gorges in the King Country and following us down the
spiral and into morning with men waving from cow bails when you looked with
tired eyes at them and thought of the smell of cow dung and the sharp tang of
piss (Why do cows wait till they get in the bail?) and the warmth of cows. I
have seen the tricorne of Rangitoto from the top of the hill behind Bombay and driven to another hill to look down on the Hauraki, on the plains and the gray
swamps. The hills from Warkworth leaned back into the North when we moved up
there and I felt that I was going home even if it had to be the flat of Waipu
and then found it better drawing over the clay roads, as ever, badly rutted down
to the amazing spread of the blue water and the islands of the Bay and the
quiet of the waterfront at Paihia. I saw the tents of the troop from the
Russell wharf when those tents stood out triangular and even on the night. And
one night I lay on the wharf waiting for the Knoxie to come
back on the last trip and there was a line storm running inland to Kawakawa and
further out of sight, fork lightning tapping on the hills and thunder rolling.
They were all important. I want to go back to them. They are positive. There were the trains, the stuffy
carriages and the bodies on the floor and in the racks and the scratch of a
match in the dark and the dismal pound of the rails. One evening we were going
south on a leave train from Auckland, drawing out through Westfield as the sun
set and the mud flats were alight and golden and the gulls sat at the ends of
exposed pipe lines. In one carriage ahead some one started Old Mother Hubbard
and the song came back through the train till the whole train was singing and you
could hear, on the curve there between the South Road and the mudflat, the tune
coming from carriage after carriage. By such tokens we live. We were waiting
then for something that didn’t come, for the Tokyo Express and the scab
of war on the north.
are compound from such things. To us now in exile, there must always be
pleasure and sadness in the naming of names. They are our music. We in part
have made those places as we have made places we have never been. We are
involved. Peace means those places and their fertility, not that fertility of
producing alone but the fertility of being able to give us what we would ask
and give always in good measure. They are our testament.
Summer is escaping now from the south. I have heard that there have been heavy
frosts at home. We had frosts while I was at Pokeno. Morning
after morning it was hard to get up from the blankets and sometimes hard to
sleep with the cold. But coming out into the morning was cold, with your breath
steaming and hanging at the door of the tent, the air stiff with the cold and
the trees stiff and down the roll from the camp and out along the flat under
the shadow of the hills, all the paddocks were crisp with white frost, the
grass greens lost under that white elegance and a weave of shadows from
branches and hedges spread out over the white.
These have been the material of our ways of living. There have also been those
queer changes of tempo in people you know. There have been the sudden strokes
that showed the unhappiness of people you knew, unhappiness maybe you never
suspected and you have been concerned for them. There has been the shadow of
the force of our time over us, a malignant shadow and we have walked towards a
tomorrow that has been cast down by that shadow and the fever of our day has
run through us and we have been wild and impotent and angry and afraid. Now
they say that the European war is over. An ending and a beginning.
Last week I climbed the local peak and looked all round the island, seeing it
much darker than I had thought. I met a gallant finch on the road, splendid
with black back, a white triangular mask and a superb scarlet front which he
ruffled at me when his wife came down close to flirt with me. And she was so
plain after his honour in the geranium bushes.
applied the other day for a transfer to public relations, or the Archives
section or Korero. Some day I may get out of this store business. Apart from
that have done nothing to stir the stagnant pool. Nothing? I have twice been
much moved by the moon and the night. Tonight I shall go walking.
Salud, Gray. Look to the night and the moon. It is said that night is a good
herdsman. She brings all things home. There is a Sapphic fragment somewhere.
Pardon the errors.
I’m too bloody lazy to correct them [handwritten]
Sunday 27th May 45
up the last letter I wrote to you. It was sent on the day of the false Frisco
peace announcement. Now the real armistice has come and Mrs Hamiltons husband
has been released from his prison camp and I wrote to her the other day. Apart
from the feeling she must have and which only she can recognise, I made my own
comment that history and war is compounded of the little things, the personal
things done to people not in themselves important, that history is the complex
of those actions and the suffering of our time is the total suffering of each
of us. I wrote better then than I knew and now I can repeat that declaration
with all sincerity and feel it in full.
mother died on Friday. It is simple as that. You more than any other will know
what it means to Dad and myself. I am worried for him, very worried and want to
get home to make some arrangement. I doubt if I will. All arranging will
probably have to be done from here. I don’t expect now, I just hope for
good luck. Luck was left out of our family quota it seems in pretty good
measure. You know that the last few years weren’t by any way easy for any
of the three of us and for my mother least of all. The last letter I had from
my father told me that Mum had gone to hospital that she was very weak and much
in pain but he was hopeful of the nursing of the hospital. The doctors left it
too long. They had the biggest obstacle to fight in her age. She hadn’t a
great deal left after the operation and she poured that out as she had always
poured out her strength. She never seemed to acknowledge that she wasn’t
young and strong any more until it was too late and then the pain was too much
for her. You saw her last year when she was still fighting back what she must
have known with certainty. And we were powerless to do anything more than try
and relieve her a little.
God knows how the old man will take it. He isn’t strong and he has had
the strain of looking after her for three years now. And he is alone. We [were]
always just the three of the family. I may have to rely on the people of the
neighbourhood for immediate care where he is concerned but there are always
those things that should be done by the family.
have written this since you more than any one I can think of, have known how we
lived and what the home was like. Tomorrow is more than ever blank. I feel so
damned responsible now for Pop and feel that he is so much alone.
all my regards and good wishes for your return, or at least for good luck in
the new adjustments in your theatre,
AC1 K Smithyman
at APC 356
Sunday morning 24th June 
My dear Gray,
Thanks for the
cable and the letter of the 20th May which came a month after
posting. Mine are apparently being delayed more than yours. That will be due to
my own damn foolishness in not sending them air mail. Blame my perennial absent
mindedness for that. It is reasonably active.
Answering your questions: I am getting my father to send you a copy of the
current New Writing. I havent a copy of my own yet. The PP are lax as usual but
I have seen the fourth issue which prints my Danish Interlude as two poems,
with what I think are three textual errors. One is
definite. The other two are possibles. As I havent a copy of the original I cant
be sure. I may have changed words here and there anyway after I sent in the
manuscript in June of last year. Korero has printed a story, based on one a boy
told in the hut one night. As for the Angry Penguins – I cant say. I
wrote to Max Harris last week for more news. A letter is overdue and at least
one copy of the magazine. He has other poems of mine which I sent this year but
so far have had no word of what he intends with them.
The fourth New Writing is curious as the others have been. While it has nothing
as bad as Woollaston’s trifle of nausea in the 3rd issue, or prose
as bad as Robertson’s, the standard is all round lower. Only one effort at all notable in the prose
(the prose has always been the weaker feature) and the verse this time not so
much in quality as previously. Bad editing is killing the magazine. Decent
people wont write for it, I’m beginning to think. Consider the first
issue printing Curnow, Fairburn, Sargeson etc. They don’t like Gordon and
they cant get any satisfaction out of the Progressive. I’m fed up. I
still haven’t got my papers back that I’ve demanded five times. Nor
any acknowledgement of my letters. It isnt good enough. You may know that the
group has apparently been woefully mismanaged, to the point of financial
difficulty. You have only to look at their publishings to see the point of
that. I think of the trivia that has nothing to do with New Zealand. Barkers translations, Osts work etc. New
Writing is killed on its feet. It never even fought. And Gordon stays in power
The old Art in New Zealand has been reorganised and is now a much finer effort
in format and contributors. Very good criticism in parts, better plates and better verse. Rex Fairburn is
active with it, but the main spring is a bloke I don’t know, Howard
Wadman in Wellington. Anything to do with art in NZ needs a firm kick in the
slats to bring it alive.
When your letter came I was reading it walking back to work from lunch. I was
doing a job off the station and had to go down the trailing road so much like a
back lane in North Auckland, barring its colour. No metal on the road, but the
roadbed a bright brown red quick to come up with dust, and the banks scarred
with the footpaths, past the country store and round to my job where I could
sit in the sun in intervals and consider your words. I have the letter beside
me now and others I have had from you this year and as well the copies of my
own so I can see what I have seen, and said this year. And what is there to say
now that I have not said before? The war is over and the war goes on. Even in New Zealand, the main importance has been in the European theatre. People have never
realised that the front line is a days flight from Auckland and that there are
things being done within so slight a distance (and that distance at the same
time so great when thought in a personal term) the things of the war that are
as real as the tensity [sic] of action in the Italian hills, the cumulative
drag of garrison and island sojourn, the conflict for the few, the return to
home for some and the persistent qualification of service from which [they?
we?] have not escaped and have little prospect of escaping for so long yet. We
are an island people. We have the sea round us. We are remote in our
understanding. Social response always lags behind our technical facility. So
much present difficulty comes from that failure to respond; we persist with a
social structure that is far behind the constitution of our time and community
and we persist because we have not in ourselves absorbed the technics [sic]
with which we are on the surface familiar. And our technics have turned on us
as a double edged weapon. We have been forced into violence to assert that by
destroying we can build. But our foundation—the same uncertainty, the
same lack of basis that commits us to recurring wars? What are we to do? You
and I, the little and unimportant units of an age and a generation? That is our
main concern. We are committed to history but we still remain individuals and
we have problems and values that time will not screen.
One thing is certain. We cannot retire. The community will be walled round us
and the community will endure, lasting in flux and always making new
adjustments, creating new sanctions and demanding more of us. But we are
positive (or will have to be positive) in ourselves. We have to find ourselves
and establish ourselves. We must reconcile what is in us. And I don’t
think we will do that. It has been an argument on which I have worked that we
can never be reconciled, that we are more than one person, that we are a
complex of personalities in flux, the complex compounded into an active
identity, the operable citizen who has hungered and loved and been frustrated
and never known what he is or what precisely it is that he wants. We have lived
blindly. When our eyes have opened, we have wanted them closed again and we
have closed them and substituted dream and illusion by [sic for?] the accusing
fact. We have looked in mirrors and broken the mirrors at horror of what we saw
and then tried to piece the broken glass together again and make a new truth
that would be acceptable. We have known happiness of a sort. But it has been
castrated by expediency. We are bound to look for happiness and we are bound to
the community. On that basis we always depend. I am most pessimistic now for I
see no good in the communities. The potential of our own places I sensed at
times will not be realised because of our shifts and divisions. You can test my
thought against your own environment.
So we must compromise. And we must affirm. You remind me that I said Are we
going to look back to childhood for something to affirm. Basically, no. You
know that. But where is our option?
The past is most definitely gone. We cannot live in regressive dreams. But we
cannot wholly escape them. We must face our manhood and be adult. We must know
what we are facing. It will be compromise between dream and actual. Between the
dream of our time and the vision of what is happening. Between responsibilities
(most to our self) and commitments (to others?). Between the reality of our
community and the fact that in that is our home and the unavoidable nostalgia
for a place where we can be at home as I have never been at home in New
Zealand. We are colonial. We are both of us, Gray, first generation colonials
and we have repudiated the temper of England and are unable to take our natal
soil on its own good terms. But we must go home and we must be at home there.
If we desire happiness (whatever we understand below any level of language in
that term) we must be reconciled to our country and out of that reconciling we
must build and be fulfilled. I have key words, token words, but am I really
seeing their worth or am I deluding myself with a mysticism that glosses over
lack of understanding?
This last month has been long and difficult. I was not able to get back and fix
things for Dad as I wanted. But the people at home have been very good, with
offers and practical assistance. Especially Peggy and Martyn Finlay who have been most generous and helpful.
Home will be strange when I get there. You will know how strong the impress of
my mothers personality was on us and the very real way in which the home
centred round her. The adjustment the old man must make will be hard. I will
have that to do when I get back. The effect of her death was blanketed to a
degree by this distance and then again made more emphatic by it. In a way, it
has been a month of suspension when I have had this responsibility and been
virtually powerless. Now there is the old man who is lonely but seeming to pick
up a bit, and there is as well tomorrow when there will be both of us.
tomorrow is so vague. What will I do after this show is over. Go back to
teaching or take another job? Not teaching, I’m afraid though I like the
job and would like it. Whatever I do will be subordinate to the writing if I
keep on. It is too important to me. I must arrange so that I will be best
equipped to get into working order and get something done.
We have been strangely equipped to face the blank of that tomorrow. We were
aware of the despair and contriving of the depression; you know just how far we
were hit by that and what those years meant. And then we went to school and
grew up through those years waiting for a war and shortly we were involved in
that. In a sense we had little youth, or the time that should have been was
soured by the events that claimed us. Now you have been familiar with violence
and an exile from your home. What do you want to do? What can we do?
There is good and richness in the country. There is so much stupidity and
culpability to be cleared.
wrote recently to a friend ‘if we need anything and perhaps supremely
today, it is charity.’ And I repeat that to you, for you will understand
the need of that charity and the way by which I have come to make that
declaration. It is so obvious and repetitive of what has become traditional. It
is the term of Saint Paul who wasn’t a fool all the time. We have learned
charity I think in the bond to force. We can forgive and love with more depth
than we could if this service had missed us. We are not great with charity and
because we lack, we will always be lacking the response. I am not concerned
with charity in the Paulist sense, but in the sense of the humanists, of such
humanists as Confucius. We may not find the terrestrial world enough but it is
all we will have. Any attribute of a religion, provided it is not permeated
with creed and belief, may do for us so long as it extends to the community
some hope of happiness. We have the wrong goals. We assert or seek to assert
our one self. That is necessary and imperative. But we must seek to obliterate
in the action the great enemy which is the self. To lose our identity? No. To
find our identity in the wilful negation, and from that negation to be affirmed
and operative. We must be givers and not only takers. We are, but the majority
don’t realise. We have learned charity I think and to suffer fools (but
not gladly) and we have learned to suffer. That is important.
And you intimate with death will have learned to live. In a death ridden city
that quality will be valuable. But I have written about that previously and it
doesn’t need reiteration.
We are lost in winter here. Gales hit at us and time blows over. The valleys
are deep and dark with pines and the trees are salted with the near blown spray
of the sea. The cliffs are scaled by that spray. I have been out at one point
when the wind was sitting in the right quarter and seen the pines wet and
dripping under the clouds of spray blown like steam up the face of the rocks
and then inland. That was on Victory Day and I remember it, and the sea was
great, running in long and free and then bursting on the rocks and scuttling
into the boulder beaches at the cliff foot and shooting tall and white over the
ridges. Birds we didn’t see in the summer have come close to the tents
and perch in our orange trees. The oranges are hanging on their branches and
peach trees are in blossom. Time or season are confounded and spring and winter
are mixed. Sun climbs for a day or two and the gales strike back on us. The
peaches bloom and the oranges ripen. This is exile which we do not forget.
The sea will be running high at Kingston today and I may go down to look at it.
But Kingston is comfortless. There are too many tangible ghosts and we have
enough ghosts in our own time. We are drawn back to their memory, the vortex of
our debt that will not be paid.
have sketched a story about your five prisoners but think that it will be
better postponed until I see you again and we can talk of such things. I
don’t know that I have any verse worth sending you but will scuff among
my papers and see. Your command for your amusement.
good Gray and watch the sunrise. It may surprise you with a tomorrow that will
be worth some word. And some hope, since we [are] destitute of that.
Yours as ever
NZ 4215 786
AC I Kendrick Smithyman
NZ APO 356
Sunday morning, 12th August 
My dear Gray,
This is the end
of the war. Or so we have been told. We are living on rumour and half report.
We are tantalised with scraps of negotiation going on and the settlement of
personal fates in terms of nations. This is the end. As you say, not with a
bang but a whimper. This morning there was rain and now the rain has gone and
the sun is on the slopes, warmer today than for weeks it seems. Outside the
tents where the lantana was cleared yesterday hens and chickens are scratching
on the earth. Men sit on steps and take the sun and talk. This is the end of
war and the beginning of peace the beginning of the waiting for the return
home, the anti climax. Our feeling has gone. We are superfluous here. We are
without purpose now. Soldiers in peace are like chimneys in summer. Properly we
have not realized that our obligation is on the way out, that we are moving to
a new city as civilians. We are moving already. There is change in the habit of
thought. It doesn’t mean any hilarity. That is played out. It went
quickly yesterday. This is half life, the end that isn’t quite final
(there have not been formalities) and the biting into a stale world, between
two worlds. The fowls cackle in the yard down the slope and I am going to
They say the war is over. No hysterics, no excitement now. Not much at any
time. We have been waiting too long. Now we start to wait for the last moves.
The long road goes home and back to the mediocrity of the suburbs, to our own
unimportance and our own small efforts to make a world that will last from solid
bases, enduring bases of ethics and economics if the two can be reconciled. We
are not disillusioned for I doubt that we had illusions to lose. We are not
desperate. We are only tired and strange to ourselves, to the past before we
were in service and to the present since its purpose has been negated and
definitely to our future where we must learn to move again and be. To be. Not
automatic in responses, aware of what we are doing, listening to music and
reading significant words and finding love and pleasure. To translate the world
into our own terms, realising the world and ourselves. Will we realise? Will we
win anything from time but compromise[?] The political and military war fades,
the personal war goes on. We can not evade the present and most certainly we
will not dodge the past. We would wish to be inconsequent. For myself, I want
to do nothing that will involve other people and I cannot live without that
was woken yesterday morning about three oclock, some one running down the lines
yelling happily and blurred the wars over, and I heard the singing in the
messes where the sergeants and officers had got going. So I went to sleep
again. If I had waited so long I could wait till morning. There was free beer
at eleven in the canteen and a gala afternoon that had been arranged previously
and happily coincided with our celebration. And a dance at night. But I got
sick of the gala early in the afternoon and in the evening did little but
wander round and go off to bed.
this is the end it is the time to look back and see just how we have been in
the years. We have been party to waste, of necessary resources in material
sense and waste in lives. We have been very good at destroying, very good,
since our best minds have gone to perfecting ways of breaking. What was
necessary? What could be used[?] The material may be replaced by ingenuity (it
has already taken a prodigious forward movement so far as energy has gone with
the atomic bomb) but there isn’t any ingenuity that can replace the lives
of the people we have known. Personally our loss cannot be replaced. The
community may replace their number but those friends had their value in a
quality of friendship outside their talents and that quality is gone from us.
Must we write them off as necessary on the principle of the ‘Divinity
that shapes our ends’, beggaring the meaning of divinity?
futile to extend this argument. To argue this way is to presuppose a normative
aspect of our community that doesn’t and never has existed. Our community
and our lives are positive; we are concerned with what is, and not with what
should be. There is no should be in the ethical sense. Because of that we may
be reconciled to our condition. There have been wars and there has been mass
violence through the turbulence of history. It was necessary to destroy and be
destroyed in this age as it has been necessary in other ages. It is part of the
myth of our time. But there is still the regret for those boys and there are no
facile words to cover them. For us, they cannot ever be buried decently. They
are accessory to the crime to which we are born. They were guilty and innocent
as we. Now we return to the homes and to make ourselves again something we
would wish to be. And that will be compromise.
have a great plan for the future, Gray. I am going to listen to music and write
a little and paint a little and earn enough to live and enjoy a bit here and
there, and make love a little, pleasantly I hope, and settle in a winter night
by the fire. I have my father and the cat. The house—not much admitted
but there is a garden and there are trees. The harbour is not far away. We are
not too far from the city. There are things to be done and thought. I am going to
propagandise for a better community; I shall join the local branch of the LP. I will
take beer in company when I feel that way and by myself when I dont. Pop will
supervise and I shall garden and from the garden we will take cucumbers and
beans and onions and pickle them. And I shall grow parsnips and rhubarbs and
such against a plenty of sugar being available and I shall try to make brews of
them. Cooking must be learned so I can cook. The carnations must be planted
again and the hedges clipped, the fruit trees pruned and the lawns cut. When I
want to do those things, with luck the means will be there. To settle and live
quietly. Is it a terrific plan? But there is so much qualifying it, the strings
of this time which are tied to us and pull us. What I would attempt is an
experiment with living, an essentially practical plan. But I am of the least
practical. You will see the results at any rate when we are meeting by the gate
and will shortly stroll in the park. Tomorrow, the coming closer but still
back over this and my big reminiscent letter to you of three months back I
reckon I am making an essentially practical testament of faith. My faith and my
planning is in concrete things, in places we have known and actions we have
known. I am trying to be integrated and not distracting myself with esoteric
things. Since I have written differently earlier, you may ask What about the
writing. But that is as much a way of living as the pickling in the kitchen. It
is a part of the plan. It is not an exotic. It is very important, maybe more
than anything else. But it is in focus. I am not designating it with high flown
bullshit, calling it my ART because it doesn’t deserve that. It is way of
living I project in concrete terms and you must agree that art in any form is a
way of living. It has been put on a pedestal in a latter day Olympus. But its
place is in the armchair by the fire or on the beach when you are lazy with
summer or in a tram and under the trees of autumn. I know that now. I didn’t
at one time. But I have written poems in latrines and on ration trucks going
into town and on top of a pile of flour sacks and any God knows where. It is
part of the day. Most of my free thought goes to it I suppose. It isn’t
far away for long. And if I learn to pickle onions well—I’m very
fond of them—it may be just as important as making a poem. They both have
their place in the landscape. I am definitely attracted by this domestic idea.
There isn’t any Brookes [sic] farm atmosphere intended. It is part
of the discovery of the world that I want to make. I don’t want to seem
any Thoreau. I just want to be left alone to enjoy myself. To be able to say,
when I can wear my gents summer suiting without one eye on the Provosts.
‘And now good morrow to my waking soul’. Misquote.
testament of faith. And God knows there will be enough vocally looking for some
faith. I haven’t any patience with them. I wrote furiously to Ngaire
recently because she wasn’t satisfied with the mortal world. Isnt
this with its tragedy and betrayal and poetry and pain and laughter a world
enough. We must learn to explore and to accept, to come home with our selves
and not be strangers where we have always known.
Your letter from Trieste attracted me, notably your comments on Milan and the Como and Venice. In better circumstances we will talk of those places and I
shall try to make stories of them. I have used the Italian scene in the poems
you have seen and in a group I think important to me that you will not see till
we meet again.
They are too long to send you as I would otherwise.
So we are trembling on the verge of a future that has some meaning now other
than expediency and patience. Its a queer mood. I’ll leave it and copy
some work for you to amuse you and distract.
As always I send you my good wishes and fond memories of the casual suburb
where we are known and hope that it will not be too long before we can be
waiting for the tide and the beach, drinking beer on my back steps and going
leisurely to bathe.
Yours, my old and rare,