Analysis of ‘You Will Know When You Get There’, by Allen Curnow

Allen Curnow

Analysis of ‘You Will Know When You Get There’

Analysis of ‘You Will Know When You Get There’ – Allen Curnow the poet speaks about the ways of life through the metaphors of sea and sun in the poem ‘You will Know When you Get There’. Allen Curnow was a key person in the emergence of New Zealand’s native literature. How he became the central figure in this emergence can be traced to his parentage. He father was a fourth-generation New Zealander while his mother was an English woman.

Curnow was originally destined for the church but then he began to question religion and then took to journalism. He taught English at the Auckland University from 1950s to 1976. His first collection of poems appeared in 1933. But it was his anthologies titled The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse and A book of New Zealand Verse that sealed his reputation. They became important and well accepted because they contained ‘some common problem of imagination’ very specific to New Zealand. He won the New Zealand Book Award six times, Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and the Cholmondeley Award. He received the Order of New Zealand in 1990.

This poem is taken from the collection which has the same title – You Will Know When You Get There: Poems.

Synopsis – Analysis of ‘You Will Know When You Get There’

This poem is like modern art. It is not easy to decipher what the poet is trying to convey but when explained one gets to see the deep import of the poem. The poet is referring to someone and says that no one comes up from the sea at this late time of the day or season.  No one goes into the sea at this time especially the last kilometre which is very steep. As one walks through this metalled kilometre there are showers from the sky. The showers are so powerful that it breaks the light of the sun, the sun which shines on ‘summits, trees’, sometimes thickening the air, sometimes thinning.

The sun which is a celestial body keeps giving out its light and according to the poet the light of the sun is going to end. The light falls over the sea and it falls on rocks which are under the feet of people. When the sun’s light reflects from the small rocks it glistens like gold. The shower which is mentioned in the lines before is once again brought here which means the showers were going on. In the next line the ‘you’ is written indicating that there is some person and that person also has to go like the sun.

Analysis of ‘You Will Know When You Get There’

The sun gets there first. Then there are two boys whose faces are lit by the light of the campfire. The boys are hesitant to speak just as the earth is hesitant to roll away from the sun. Behind them walks a man who walks with a bag to catch mussels. He has made arrangement with the sea to become shallow another three point seven meters and that would make it easier for him to pick the mussels.

As the light is fading, towards the last hour of the day the waxing moon is seen and the poet says that the moon is ‘sponging’ off the last minute light of the sun. Suddenly a door closes and there is a big wave which shudder the sea floor. The ‘you’ is mentioned in the last line again and you have to go, now that it was dark, into the black fissure.


Structure – Analysis of ‘You Will Know When You Get There’

The poem ‘You Will Get to Know When you Get There’ is a piece which is written in the form of couplet. There are ten couplets and one set of three lines, tercet. There is no rhyme pattern. Almost all the lines of the poem are in similar length. The last line of the poem alone is made up of just one word. It is a free verse but one wonders if it is an extreme imagination of a free verse as the line or words do aid is easy understanding of the poem.

Poetic DevicesAllen Curnow

The main poetic device used in this poem is the allegory. There is some deeper meaning to the poem, only that neither the straight meaning nor the implied meaning is understood at the first reading. Over many readings and ponderings the allegory can be seen. The sun and the sea are the main focus of the poem. The sea stands for death and is waiting for someone to walk into its death bed. While the sun is depicted as giver of light and giving as long as it is seen on the earth.

The ‘door’ in the last tercet indicates ‘death’. It is also mentioned that ‘you’ go alone which is the case of death as well. In death also one is all alone and no wealth or friends will follow ‘you’ in death. Three characters are seen in the poem – two boys and one man. The boys represent light as Curnow writes there is light on their faces. The man represents death as he is wading into the sea to meet the sure death.  The final destination is sea and so sea stands for death.

Analysis of ‘You Will Know When You Get There’

Enjambment is used in two places. There is a continuation of thought from the previous line. But what the idea is in the poem is lost on the listener at the first reading. The hesitancy of the children to speak is compared to the way the earth hesitatingly is moving away from the sun. The mood in the poem is very a little sorrowful. The tone of the poem complements the mood.

This poem is an overdose of allegory.  Each one has to meet death at one point or another.  Is this a true representation of New Zealand emergence of native literature? It does seem difficult to comprehend the meaning and it is not made easy with the choice of words and length of each line. Generally a couplet should be stand alone. A thought that is conveyed ends in the second line. In these 23 lines with ten couplets there is no such finalisation of the idea. All this makes the poem intriguing.

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