You know the school; you call it old – Scrub-worn floors and paint all peeled On barge-board, weatherboard and gibbet belfry Pinus betrays, with rank tufts topping The roof-ridge, scattering bravely Nor’west gale as a reef its waves While the small girls squeal at skipping And Magpies hoot from the eaves. For scantling Pinus stands-mature In less than the life of a man; The rusty saplings, the school, and you Together your lives began. O sweet antiquity! Look, the stone That skinned your knees. How small Are the terrible doors, how sad the dunny And the things you drew on the wall. • BASIC FACTS: • 4 Stanzas • Free verse (non-rhyme) • …so other than that what can we see? • To examine this further I am going to be focussing on three things: • Imagery Created • Author • Theme/s • Because it is easier, I will do paragraph by paragraph.
PARAGRAPH ONE: IMAGERY “You know the school; you call it old – Scrub-worn floors and paint all peeled On barge-board, weatherboard and gibbet belfry” The imagery created in this first paragraph is very important to understanding the rest of the poem. For the school to be old to the narrator, then it must be something from the narrator’s past. Scrubbed floors creates the picture of clean but old floorboards, and weathered paint combined with the image of gallows and bell tower (belfry) creates the image of an experience the narrator has had. Meaning: It could be a parallel to the educational experience Allen Curnow had. By putting these words into his poem he is able to associate his experience with that of the reader’s possible experience of school.
YOUR TURN!!! Questions to ask yourself: • What image is created in your mind when you read this stanza? • In this first stanza, what mood or theme do you think Curnow is trying to put across? • What could the images mean in association with the mood and/or possible theme? For example, To me the image of a disciplined yet sturdy education is created through the words “scrub-worn floors”. Scrub-worn means that someone has not just cleaned the floor but they have worked hard to scrub them. Because we know that this school is old and it has still survived this suggests it is sturdy and has lasted. This leads me on to the mood I believe is being portrayed. “gibbet belfry” are two words that create an eerie sense of how he perceived his education. Gibbet= gallows, and belfry= bell tower. Bell towers are associated with churches and churches with religion. Considering that around the time this poem was made nuns used to teach in the school system it could mean that how Allen Curnow saw this disciplined way of teaching too hard, yet it has paid off in his mind when he re-visits his “old” school and sees that the system is sturdy enough to have remained.
PARAGRAPH TWO: “Pinus betrays, with rank tufts topping The roof-ridge, scattering bravely Nor’west gale as a reef its waves While the small girls squeal at skipping And Magpies hoot from the eaves.” Pinus = Latin name for Pine tree Latin could have been a common language that had to be learnt in education.Therefore, this stanza could be about the sounds of the narrator’s experience. Sounds that are in his memory of school-yard days. The sounds of Latin repetitions in the classroom, of the wind or “Nor’west gale”, of waves and girls squealing; of a skipping rope hitting the ground and Magpies hooting “from the eaves”. This memory, however, is rippled with more imagery throughout the stanza. Perhaps Curnow is trying to emphasise the importance of our senses when it comes to creating a memory. That by visiting this old school, this old memory- the images around him that were once remembered through the sense of hearing, are now being remembered through the sense of sight.
PARAGRAPH THREE: “For scantling Pinus stands-mature In less than the life of a man; The rusty saplings, the school, and you Together your lives began.” In this stanza Curnow makes comparisons between the three main images in this poem… You, Pinus, and the School. In doing this he is able to portray the theme of time. The Pinus which lives “less than the life of a man”, you as “the man”, and the school which was there before you were and was there after you left. The most important line in this stanza however is “Together your lives began.” This line suggests an end which makes it personal and emotional to the reader. Curnow puts into perspective that our lives begin with education/schooling in some form. Either in the form of a classic schoolhouse education or in the form of a “mature” figurehead. Perhaps Curnow is trying to put across that Pinus could stand for this “mature” figurehead and that throughout life the roll of teacher will change, e.g. nun, mother, lecturer and so on. However this “sapling” made its appearance in your life as soon as your educating of the world began, and as you grew in knowledge so did its influence on you, or people’s influence on you.
PARAGRAPH FOUR: The last stanza seems to group all the imagery and mood created in the precious stanzas, into established themes. Leaving the reader wondering in reflection of their own experiences with education. O sweet antiquity! Look, the stone That skinned your knees. How small Are the terrible doors, how sad the dunny And the things you drew on the wall. Antiquity =The quality of being old or ancient; considerable age THEME #1- TIME PASSING, age, memory THEME #2- PERSONAL CONNECTION,making the poem personal to not only his memory but connecting it to the memory of the reader “That skinned your knees” “the terrible doors, how sad…” THEME #3- CHANGE, and the SADNESS at the realisation that what you once thought was important, funny etc. has changed has time has progressed.
Quick Bio of Allen Curnow Curnow, Allen (1911– 2001) was born in Timaru, where his father—a fourth-generation New Zealander—was an Anglican clergyman; his mother was English-born. During his childhood Curnow lived in a succession of Anglican vicarages in Canterbury, at Belfast, Malvern, Lyttelton and New Brighton. He was educated at Christchurch BHS and the universities of Canterbury and Auckland. His first collection of poems reflected a crisis of religious vocation pointing towards his decision not to be ordained, taken the following year. Biblical imagery and language remained an important element in all his writing.In 1934 Curnow returned to the South Island. A shift in his poetic manner is observable in Enemies: Poems 1934–36 (Caxton, 1937), which reveals an awareness of contemporary English poetry and a sharper consciousness of the New Zealand scene, both social and physical. These tendencies continued in his next three books, Not in Narrow Seas (Caxton, 1939), Island Time (Caxton, 1941) and Sailing or Drowning (Progressive Publishing Society, 1943), which demonstrate growing technical mastery and a progressive widening of thematic scope. These books display a tight focus on details of New Zealand’s landscape and history and on its situation as a small island nation in the wider world—a consciousness further accentuated by the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, and the widening of the conflict to the Pacific from late 1941.
Created and the Personal Opinions of Anna SCHEIB