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Title: Continuum


Arkesh - May 5, 2007 09:25 AM (GMT)
Continuum- Allen Curnow

This is one of the more “abstract” poems that we’ve looked at, and because of this, my interpretation of the poem is only one of many. My interpretation combines the three main themes of the poem – the creation of poetry, rational and irrational thought, and finally the natural world (hopefully you will see how these come together in the conclusion).

The poem itself is continuous with no apparent rhyme scheme and enjambment right through its entire length – this immediately suggests the wandering thought of the narrator. It also reflects the title, “Continuum” which suggests a continuous spectrum or train of thought. On the subject of the title, “Continuum” also suggests extending out continuously, as if extending beyond all imposed boundaries into a world of irrationality.

The first stanza of the poem sets up the dichotomy between the rational and irrational worlds of the narrator. “The moon rolls over the roof and falls behind my house” is clearly a free imaginative view of the night sky. However, the poet is quick to counter this with the rational logical thought “the moon does neither of these things.” The poet, in describing the moon rolling and falling is describing himself: “I am talking about myself.” He is unable to compose poetry, and is thus in a sense rolling and falling all over the place.

“It’s not possible to get off to sleep,” suggests the narrator cannot tap into the poetic world of the imagination. He cannot escape the “subject or the planet” and cannot “think thoughts.” As a result he is unable to write poetry. He looks towards Nature for inspiration, and all that comes with Nature – freedom and irrationality. This is stressed further by "better barefoot it out front" which suggests freedom and spontaneity. Being outside, he can think freely without restraint. The third stanza then reflects on the limitations of the rational world. The narrator looks across the “privets” which suggests dense hedges, suburbia, and compartmentalisation. This rationality seems to be clouding his mind – the suburbia is not wonderful and irrational, but rather it is a “washed out creation” – something bland and overused. It is ultimately described as a “dark place.”

In the line “bright clouds dusted (query) by the moon,” the poet seems uncertain about the images he is creating: “query.” The image of the moon dusting the clouds is absolutely mesmerising – but for the poet it is unchartered territory, for he is finally creating beautiful poetry which is not exactly rational or “concrete.” The line “A long moment stretches, the next one is not” is particularly interesting – the long vowel sounds of the first phrase are countered by the monosyllabic words of the second phrase. This creates the feeling of drifting into a dream, but then being brought sharply back to reality with the short abrupt words. The poet momentarily enters the imaginative world of irrational thought, but shortly afterwards is brought back to harsh reality.

As the poem reaches a conclusion, the sky is described as having a moment of catharsis: “for its part the night sky empties the whole of its contents down.” The heavens above and Nature are truly showering inspiration and wonder upon the poet now that he is free outside amongst Nature. However, when the narrator goes "back to bed," he must “close the door behind on the author”, leaving his deep irrational poetic self, or even “soul” behind with nature. This is further suggested by the limited, uniform and rational words used as he returns to bed – “paces” back to bed and “in step.”

“Continuum,” on the surface is about writers block, but on a deeper level there is a battle between rationality and irrational thought. The poet looks towards Nature for inspiration for his poetry – and finds that the natural world allows his irrational mind to play around with various ideas. The only real coherent logically structured writing in this poem is at the beginning, at which point he has not as yet entered the natural world of irrationality. The message is ultimately that in order to create poetry, one must go beyond the rational reasoning and enter the imaginative world of irrationality – a world which is inexplicably connected with Nature.

Peter Kim - May 6, 2007 08:58 AM (GMT)
Continuum, Night Sweat, and possibly even Wordsworth's Sonnet.

Simple Comparison
Continuum and Night Sweat both describe writers block, c.f. James' post. In Continuum, the writer must sleep, but in doing so, shuts out nature and its inherent imaginative/creative powers. In Night Sweat, the writer is sick - he is confined to his workplace, which is 'tidied' (order/lack of freedom/lack of imagination, etc.)

Both poets suggest that the concepts of poetry and imagination, and all the characteristics embodied by Nature, are deeply inter-related.

Controversy starts here.
Moving on to Westminster Bridge, I would like to pose a question:

If the time was not in the morning, but at mid-day or in the afternoon, where the factories have started to run (industrial revolution), would he still have been able to compose this Sonnet???

My answer is No. If the city wasn't "smokeless" and if it didn't "now doth like a garment wear the beauty of the morning", Wordsworth would have lacked the passion, impetus, etc. to compose that Sonnet.

I would assert that if this was the case, the Sonnet would have resulted in another 'writer's block' poem, such as 'Continuum' and 'Night Sweat'.

If Nature is absent, or ignored, or disturbed, normality is unachievable/undercut/hindered. (?)
e.g. RAM - kill albatross, strange things happen.
Continuum - go inside, you can't compose poetry.
Night Sweat - tidy your room, you can't compose poetry.

Conclusion: the power of Nature is truely great, c.f. Ozymandius.

Mr Reed - May 6, 2007 09:49 AM (GMT)
Interesting points, Peter.

There's a pretty common thread in literature whihc suggests that interfering with nature causes disturbance to the cosmic balance of things, and that does, yes, sometimes mean that the writer's ability to express him/her self is affected by such an imbalance. So your connection between the poems isn't at all far-fetched.

Mansfield's writing doesn't offer the same lesson - and I think she'd find such a sententious approach rather clumsy - but there is a thread in her stories about how interfering with someone's 'true' self can only lead to falsehood and [self-]delusion. On the other hand, you might argue that it's hard to discern anything as solid as 'truth' in many of her stories.

I'm just interested in the simple, natural images she employs in her stories: they just strike me as more ambiguous and threatening than some of the pictures dreamt up by the poets.

Ming - May 7, 2007 09:14 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (Peter Kim @ May 6 2007, 08:58 AM)
My answer is No. If the city wasn't "smokeless" and if it didn't "now doth like a garment wear the beauty of the morning", Wordsworth would have lacked the passion, impetus, etc. to compose that Sonnet.

I would assert that if this was the case, the Sonnet would have resulted in another 'writer's block' poem, such as 'Continuum' and 'Night Sweat'.

I doubt Wordsworth would have written a poem at all given that the inspiration from writing one came from the beauty of the morning. If it had not been beautiful he would not have thought of some uber poem to write about.

Alex - May 9, 2007 09:43 AM (GMT)
I love this poem. I'm sorry that at this hour (which is not actually a particularly late one but mentally I am far past fatigued) I have nothing inciteful to add, but I just wanted to say that. It's the bee's knees.

Arkesh - May 9, 2007 10:04 AM (GMT)
I actually hated this poem when we first did it in class and thought that it was completely random and meaningless

..but after going through it in detail I've really come to like it - one of my favourites (so I can completely agree with Alex)

maybe mr reeds secret agenda was to give us random poems that we "somehow" and suprisingly come to like after being forced to talk about them, or is this only the case with me?..

Peter Kim - May 9, 2007 10:33 AM (GMT)
yes, mr reed studied each one of our individual psychology, and wisely chose these poems accordingly.

he's already working on two levels, and he's not evening analysing poetry!

Sam Holmes - May 10, 2007 05:11 AM (GMT)
Whoa, super-subliminal

Alex - May 10, 2007 10:41 AM (GMT)
With analysis like that, he just might make it as a poker player. The author of conitnuum won't, though - it'll be like "I put my bet into the pot and I win the hand and I do neither of these things, I am talking about losing in poker." Also, the poem contains few references to fish. Although they definitely are there.

Sam Holmes - May 15, 2007 01:42 AM (GMT)
Did someone say fish?




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