Analysis of ‘Continuum’, by Allen Curnow

Allen Curnow is a poet from New Zealand who has contributed much to the recognition of poetry from New Zealand. He trained initially to be a priest like his father but later assailed by doubts turned to journalism instead. He says that his poetry deals with “questions that are always private and unanswerable” Continuum is at first reading a difficult and not easy to understand poem. On one level it is about the poet’s difficulty to sleep, following which he steps out into the porch unaware of the cold outside. Here he spends time watching the moon sailing among the clouds. After some time, he turns back inside and perhaps writes this poem. Part of the difficulty with this poem stems from the way the poet talks about himself as a third person. He goes outside of himself and talks about his encounters with the “author” who is referred to as his adversary.
Critics have opined that read at another level, this poem is about rational and irrational thought, the creation of poetry and writers block and the role played by nature in encouraging poetic inspiration.
Main Subject
On the phase of it, the main subject is inability to sleep. Not being able to sleep, the poet wanders out into the garden where his thoughts wander. He notices the sun and clouds and later when he feels cold, he comes back into the house and goes to bed, perchance to sleep. There are views expressed by critics that the poem can be read at more levels. Taken like that, the poem is about writers block or the inability to compose poetry.
The purpose of the poem is to highlight the poet’s dilemma of not being able to sleep. He wanders out into the garden, not aware of the cold, falls into a reverie about the moon and the clouds. On the face of it, this is what the poet intends to say. Read on another level the poem’s purpose could be to talk about the tussle between rational thought and the irrational or about poetic imagination.
The poet himself appears confused about his emotions.
“bright clouds dusted (query) by the moon, one’s mine
the other’s an adversary, which may depend
on the wind, or something.”
It may be safe to say that the poet is battling contrary feelings about his lack of sleep or lack of poetic inspiration.

Technique / Craftsmanship
The lack of enjambment in the poem seems to suggest free flowing thought that hops from one subject to another. The poem is written in conversational tones “Better barefoot it out the front”, yet the natural cadences of the language make it intensely lyrical.
The poem Continuum is marked by a lack of formal structure. The poem has 21 lines but it does not conform to a poetic form. There is no rhyme scheme but only free flowing thought. The language’s natural cadences give it a lyrical tone and tenor.
There is no employment of poetic diction or classical allusions in this poem. The language used is an everyday workmanlike one. The abstractness comes from the images and the emotions expressed. The poet himself appears confused about his feelings and lack of sleep.
“one’s mine
the other’s an adversary, which may depend
on the wind, or something.”
Continuum has vivid images of the night. The moon is sailing high in the sky and there are scattered clouds trailing the moon. The privets and the palms look ghostly and”washed out” in the moonlight. The chill of the night reaches the readers through these lines:
Not unaccountably the chill of
the planking underfoot rises.
Movement / Rhythm
Though there is no rhyme scheme, the natural cadences of the diction the poet employs make the poem lyrical. The beginning of the line “A long moment stretches, the next one is not” uses polysyllabic words but a string of monosyllabic ones towards the end is like a flight cut short suddenly.
There are no poetic devices to provide sound effects like alliteration or assonance in this poem but the lilting cadences produce an intensely poetic experience for its readers. Reading the poem one can sense the stillness and the almost whispered lines.

Figures of Speech
Allen Curnow employs metaphors in Continuum to depict the image of a night sky with the moon riding high trailed by clouds, “bright clouds dusted (query) by the moon”
The lines “for its part the night sky empties the whole of its contents down.”, could mean that the sky or nature is showering inspiration on the poet.