5. Encounter with a Tremayne Curnow poem, 1920

We were in Arthur’s Pass yesterday and came across an unexpected link to Allen Curnow. In a small way it helps to place him in context as it was a poem written by his father, Tremayne Curnow. It is on the wall of a section of the Department of Conservation visitor information centre. There is a room at the back which has an original stagecoach which was used to go over Arthur’s Pass. On one of the walls there are memorabilia of the stagecoach days such as old posters and photographs showing the stagecoach.

The poem is dated 1920 and a picture of it is included below. It was written in the era before a tunnel had been put in that area so it describes the harrowing experience of traveling by stagecoach. A few years later a tunnel was finally completed which would transform the journey. The tunnel was a major building project as it was many kilometres long but progress was slow as World War I got in the way.

The reason for posting about this here is that it provides a glimpse of what Allen Curnow must have experienced as a child in terms of having a poet mentor in the form of his father. Allen Curnow’s first collection published in 1933 was dedicated to his father “T.M.C.” and in interviews he always described him in a positive light as someone who had a real ability to write poetry. Tremayne Monro Curnow lived from 1880-1949 and he is also remembered by Allen Curnow in the poem “Elegy on my Father”.

In 1920 Allen Curnow would have been just 9 years old and so if his father was writing and publishing poetry then it must have seemed perfectly normal for the son to do so as well. In other words, there was a rich family heritage of poetry which would have made it more likely for Allen Curnow to pursue that as well since it was a normal part of his Father’s life. It would be interesting to consider this further from a “nature vs nurture” perspective and the influence of parents on their children. I think it is also interesting to think about the rooting in Canterbury that this family had, since Allen’s father worked as an Anglican Minister throughout this province and wrote about what he experienced there. For those reasons I thought it was helpful to include a post about this random encounter with one of Tremayne’s poems in Arthur’s Pass.

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