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Mythology of Place - Homage to James K Baxter - © 1993-94 - Lloyd Godman - Lawrence Jones



Lawrence Jones

'What happens is either meaningless to me, or else it is mythology'1

- this much-quoted statement of James K.Baxter's is a starting place for a discussion of his uses of Otago places in his work, for it takes us into the heart of the Romantic poetic which determines those uses. To Baxter, 'Poetry is not magical but mythical', presenting 'the crises, violations and reconciliations of the spiritual life in mythical form because this is the only way in which the conscious mind can assimilate them'.2
Myth is central to poetry because it 'is the form the poet uses to crystallise experience'.3 That crystallisation is in the form of symbols, which 'cannot be explained' but rather 'must be regarded as a door opening upon the dark - upon a world of intuitions and associations of which the poet himself is hardly conscious'.4 The symbols in turn are drawn from concrete sense experiences in the immediate environment. This process is most fully described in 'the tenets of the Horse religion' in Baxter's posthumously published autobiographical novel Horse: 

Surrounding Horse, not made by him, existed the sky the earth, the sea, and other less clearly defined creatures, serenely melancholy, neither glad nor sorry that Horse existed. Yet Horse's happiness depended on an intimate contact with this world of substance. . . . By contact with the world of substance Horse had access to a sacred power. . . . This power adhered to particular places and particular people. In his childhood Horse had experienced its manifestation on certain cliff-faces and on the banks of creeks, especially where flax or toe-toe bushes grew freely. His father conveyed it strongly, by the capable strength of his hands, and by the smell of burnt gum-leaves he often carried on his person. As the primitive paradise of childhood fell apart, Horse had been led by meditation and example to look for the signs of this power in women.5

These sense experiences become symbolic by a process of 'natural contemplation'  upon 'the testament of sand and the parables of rock - those very  humble, very obscure communications from nature'.6   As he wrote in an  early poem to his parents, 'For me all earth is symbol'.7 These symbols coalesce into myth as the poet intuitively discovers 'a sacred pattern in natural events', a  'pattern which lies, unknown, like the bones of St Peter under the surface rubble of events'.8  The artist in his 'double vision . . . expresses through an artistic medium, at one and the same time, selected portions of objective reality and a subjective pattern which these are able to signify'.9 This  subjective 'animistic pattern which underlies civilised activity' the poet attempts to 'lay . . . bare, and draw upon its strength without being submerged by it'.10 Since the pattern is animistic, 'Animism is an essential factor in the artist's view of the world', a factor available to 'the child and the savage', but lost in 'a materialist technological civilisation', its 'generative power' to be gained only through 'the rediscovery and revaluation of childhood experience'. 11 'The Dark Side' vividly presents the child's animistic vision, built 'Upon the grave of savage animism' as experienced by his tribal forebears. 12  Such animism involves the 'passionate sympathy with natural objects'  that Baxter admired in Alistair Campbell's poetry, and it provides the 'peculiar power' of Denis Glover's landscape poetry, as 'mountain, river, bushland and sea assume . . .  the proportions of animistic powers'. 13

This Romantic poetic  clearly underlies Baxter's poetry and is an apologia for it.  In that poetry he uses a  store of natural images drawn from childhood experience, using 'local places or events as a focus for legend', 14 to form an animistic pattern that coalesces into myth.  In a crucial passage he relates that formation of natural myth in childhood to literary myth, both forming part of his education as poet: 

Waves, rocks, beaches, flax bushes, rivers, cattle flats, hawks, rabbits, eels, old man manuka trees . . .  provided me with a great store of images that could later enter my   poems.  Among the books at home were one or two of Norse and Greek mythology. I   became the companion of Odin and Thor and Jason and Ulysses.  That was an indispensable education. 15

When he returned to Otago in 1966 to take up the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago, he spoke of the importance of that store of local images from childhood: 
More than half of the images that recur in my poems are connected with early memories of the Brighton township, river, hills and seacoast - especially the seacoast.  Sitting down to write in a room in Wellington, again and again my mind would make an  imaginary journey over the neck of the Big Rock, across the mouth of the Brighton  River, and wander round the domain, or up to the boathouse, or along the sandhills, or out to the fishing rocks where the swells came straight in without
interruption all the way from Peru. 16

As that statement implies, there were also other sources of images than Brighton: other places in Otago, India (from his 1958 journey there), such North Island places as Wanganui, Kai Iwi Beach (sounding very much like Brighton in 'At the Bay'), Akitio, Waipatiki Beach, and. towards the end,  especially Jerusalem.  But the concern here is that little world of Brighton, a fallen Eden fronting the sea,  flanked by two other Otago worlds representing those two opposing images that he considered to be 'of peculiar cogency for New Zealand poets', the City and the Wilderness.17 While in his later poetry the City became Wellington and then Auckland, in his early and middle poetry it is  Dunedin, 'a different place' from Brighton, 'the town I ventured into when I first came of age . . . . the place where (as all people have to) I broke away from my first family and began the somewhat agonising search for a tribe of my own'.18 And the Wilderness is often the mountain country of Central Otago, especially the Matukutuki Valley, 'the mirror and symbol of the power of God which cannot be contained in human thought or human society'.19  The three worlds together form a mythical structure, a spatial myth against which the temporal myth of his life in his poetry is acted out.

At the centre of this poetic universe is the Brighton township.  It was a 'usual enough' place, this 'small town of corrugated iron roofs / Between the low volcanic saddle / And offshore reef where blue cod browse', a town with  'A creek, a bridge, a beach, a sky / Over it', a town of 'gravel roads . . . School, store, and bowling green'. 20  But for the young Baxter, 'the town stood plain, huge at the world's centre'. 21  He observed his 'small stretch of coast on a large island' from a hill-top, noting 'shore, islet, reef'.22  Or from 'the macrocarpa tree, the child's look-out' he  took in 'the sea, the tide-river, chief vista of content', or looked inland to the 'gorse on ridged hill-side blown clean by the sea-wind'.23  From 'sea, hills, cattle island', the 
adolescent felt 'calmness expands; vast sanity'.
24  This Wordsworthian world was primarily the child's Eden, the place which he experienced as a 'natural paradise' in growing up, loading his 'inner mind with images purloined' from it: 'the first cigarette tasted in the top branches of the macrocarpa tree, the mud-eels hooked or gaffed from the creek below the house, the limestone cave where somebody reckons the Maoris used to bury their dead, the girls undressing in the bathing sheds, seen through a crack in the wall. . . .'25   This 'natural  paradise' is of course a psychological state associated with the place, not the place itself, as his definition makes explicit:

A sense of absolute value in what is happening; a sense of being in relation to other people and to things; a sense of endless possibilities of fruitfulness; and above all, the habit of natural contemplation, the letting the mind rest upon, draw nourishment from, the images of nature perceived as an organic whole - these things  constitute, to my mind, a paradise, as far as such a condition is possible after the Fall of  Man.26

The fall from the natural paradise of childhood is inevitable, a second Fall that all must experience.  It is dramatised in the two versions of 'The Town Under the Sea': when the poet was eight (in the prose version) or 'At puberty / Or the first deadly sin' (in the later poem), 'the sea rose up in one / Pounding night and swallowed the land'.27The original 'primitive paradise', although it  'stands high and dry in the eyes of a hundred children, peopled, ringing and abundant, like Noah's faithful ark', is 'hidden from us as we go about our deaths'.28 When the adult returns to it, 'the township I grew up in / has a closed, glazed face . . . either I or it  / have retreated to the back of a paperweight!'  Truly, 'He who comes back with different eyes must see a different land'.29 When he looks at the crab-apple tree in the neighbour's garden from which he stole as a child, it appears as 'A second-rate Eden / nobody expected to find themselves outside!'30 The poet can regain his natural paradise only in memory, and then it is the memory of Innocence coloured by Experience, so that he usually sees prefigured in it the Fall.

Thus the memory of smoking the wild bees out of their hive in the rotten cabbage tree 'beside the stagnant  river' becomes an image of the Fall, its treasure not the honey the child coveted but . . .  a nectar      Distilled in time, preaching the truth of winter To the fallen heart that does not cease to fall.31 Many of the images from the town and the nearby farms are associated with loss and the Fall.  There is the simple loss through Time, represented by ruined farms.  One is the site of the farm of his great granduncle Duncan McColl, above Black Bridge, which bridged McColl Creek where it joins with the Otokia Stream to form the Brighton River.  The first settlers saw in the wild landscape the possibility of 'release, eventual and ancestral peace, / Building the stubborn clans again', but the poet can now see only an overgrown orchard where   . . . undergrowth     Among stunted apple-trees coiling Trips the foot.  Sods grass-buried like antique faith. 32

Returning to the site in a later poem, the poet finds only  fire-blackened stones, thistle growing amidst them, finding in the fallen house not a Yeatsian 'Atridean doom that daunted / The heart with lidless gorgon stare', but rather a Hardyan 'wraith of dead joy haunted':
     There once the murk was cloven

     By hearthlight fondly flaring within:

     Adamant seemed their hope and haven.

     O Time, Time takes in a gin

     The quick of being!  Pale now and gossamer thin

     The web their lives had woven.33

The old McColl site was on 'the clay track leading / From Black Bridge to Duffy's Farm'.

At the farm at the end of that track, on the hill above the ruined orchard, with its 'twisted apple trees / that bear no fruit', was the still-standing ruin of Duffy's house, with its memories of Duffy and his common-law wife Sarah still present. 

To the poet it presents an accurate image

of what life holds for us: 

    . . .  I cannot 

     promise  more than this, the clods
     divided by purgation

     of frost, rustling autumn head

     of thistle - space, air, light in
     a room whose door is broken.34

While at least the ruins of the orchards remain with Duncan McColl's and Duffy's farms,  along with the ruined house or at least its firestones, nothing, not  even the twisted trees,  remains  to mark where the orchard and farmhouse had been on the farm on Creamery Road, below Saddle Hill, where Baxter's father Archibald had grown up.  A visit  to the site with his father shows only an empty paddock, 'not a stone of the house standing', although it all remains there in his father's memories.  But for the poet it is another image of loss: 'I inhabit the empty ground'.35   Another visit, this time alone, to the Kuri bush farm where his 'first years flung by / (Earth's) folly unseen yet',36  shows that only a mound stands where the farmhouse was.
But he carries memories of his mother lighting the kerosene lamp and his father taking him outside at night

     Holding me up to look at

     The gigantic rotating wheel of the stars 
     Whose time isn't ours.37

But, in our human time, the farm reminds us of loss and mortality, although he can at least be loyal to memory. The poet takes away a 'splinter of slate' from the old chimney to 'hold [him] back if [he] tried to leave this island' where he hopes he will someday  be buried.37 On an earlier visit he remembered 'Here my father showed me Orion and the Plough' and mourned 'The star that fell at midnight will not shine forth again'.38

In Brighton township itself the house and garden on Bedford Parade where he spent most of his childhood and adolescence are associated with his father and mother.  His father is seen mostly in relation to the garden and the surrounding landscape, embodying the cycles of nature, including loss but also sometimes the possibility of rebirth or redemption. 
He is seen 

     . . . up a ladder plucking down

     The mottled autumn-yellow

     Dangling torpedo-clusters

     Of passion-fruit for home-made wine.39

The  garden where the 'passion-fruit hang gold above an open doorway' is associated with the 'single vison' of the childhood Eden, but 'single vision dies'.  In the nearby cemetery the 'bright lizard' is the image of 'The moment of animal joy', but the 'maimed gravestones' imply mortality and loss (the  27 year -old poet is back in Brighton for the funeral of an uncle).40 Earlier, at 21, the poet had returned to the house to find 'no fault' in his father  but knew that 'Nor can we thus be friends till we are foes', for he had to break free even from his father's 'light and sympathetic yoke' if he was to grow.  He would leave, but bearing with him the image of his father 'rooted like a tree in the land's love'.41 Returning at 40 to see his aged father,  he is charmed by that smile that 'like a low sun on water / tells of a cross to come', but perhaps the cross implies also rebirth, for he sees his father against the background of spring in the garden,  and although he can 'mourn the fishing net  / hung up to dry', image of the man whose gardening days are almost over, he can also see 'where crocuses lift the earth'.42 Several years before returning to Otago for the Burns Fellowship, in a poem in which he mourns the 'desecrated earth', the possible destruction by 'atom cloud' in a world where we seem to have only 'our Christ of death . . .  A child that has no breath /  Not able to be born', he yet imagines a drunk walking Scroggs Hill Road and seeing  'a blaze of light / In a sod hut' that reveals a Maori Mary and a 'Christ of fire' from which vision the drunk would come down to the town. 
And praise the living scene

     With an unwounded tongue.

   In the land where I was born.43

In a gloss on the poem he revealed that 'the Scroggs Hill farm is the place where my own father was born, in a sod house'.44
If the garden is primarily his father's (although his mother has her corner of it), the house is primarily his mother's and is an Eden only in an ironic sense: 

Respect an Eden so designed

      To occupy the hands and mind,

      Whose serpent always lived elsewhere

          In other people's tough, disordered lives.45

His mother the poet associates with the kitchen, like the other mothers and female relatives.  As the children climbed the macrocarpas out on Bedford Parade, and 'pelted each other with resinous cones',

        The boring jailors, far below, indoors
         In steaming kitchens floured a batch of scones

         Hot-tempered as their ovens, squat and humming

         In a closed universe of mutton bones.46

Or she is in the kitchen making 'thick hot winter soup' (in contrast to his father's passion-fruit wine), or is in  the rock garden tending 'the gold and pearl trumpets called angels' tears', or she is in the sitting room  with the family photographs.47  The 'brown-filmed photographs' link her with the possessive mother on the 'gully farm' who tries to hold Odysseus at home, and the 'macrocarpa windbreak' of that farm links it  with the 'old house shaded with macrocarpa' from which 'rises my malady'.48  Thus in Baxter's symbolic world, his mother and her places are associated with family conflict, the rebellion of the adolescent, his struggle to get free of the maternal net.  The most painful associations are with the hillside below the Bedford Parade house where, fleeing a 'difficult session' with his mother over his leaving the university, Baxter, like Horse, sat 'on the bare earth under one of McArthur's gum trees,' and wept, gripping 'the huge smooth bole of the tree as if it were a human body'.49    However, he is calmed when  he looks down on the river, symbol of the flow of Time (and his own life), the flow that inevitably carries him on to adulthood and independence.

That hillside looks down not only on 'the beer-brown somnolent wave / Of the brackish river' and the cattleflats beyond it, but also on the 'narrow tumulus' of The Giant's Grave standing between hillside and river.  The area is associated with childhood memories: racing 'sledges down the hill to the Giant's Grave over dry cowpats to the slimy swamp at the bottom, while the grassheads threshed at your knees';  fishing for eels; sailing flaxstick boats.  Fear then seemed irrelevant:
                     Nothing made us afraid.

     No, not fear of drowning, drawn down in weedy arms,

     Nor any ghost dragging the eyes unwilling

     To gaze on Adam's wound. 50

Yet  the young Baxter did imagine Antaeus' bones 'bedded deep' in the tumulus, perhaps an image of the knowledge of Time, Death, and the Fall buried within the child, for he dreamed of seeing the corpse of his 'loved grandmother' with 'her face in anguish smiling' burning on a funeral pyre on the mound.50  Even in the child's paradise,  the dark knowledge creeps in.The nearby  Brighton River,  running sluggishly to sea at the Bay, is repeatedly a symbol of the cycle of Time and Death, seen innocently by the child but now seen more darkly by the adult.  The adult poet looks back in memory at the 'daft boy' watching paradise ducks on the 'brackish river shallows' and  is brought to 'Thoughts of Eden lost, and the sheen man had broken'. Now, in  proper Dylan Thomas fashion, he sees the meaning of the dead duck that he had found then,
        Knowing the natural world, like man's, founded

        On death, by the same canker grieved and wounded.51

The middle-aged poet  watches the winter river carrying 'a freight of floating pine cones'7 as it runs out to the Bay, remembers his unhappy adolescent sexual yearnings, and thinks of the objects of his resentful lust as they now 'sag on porches, in back rooms, flabby as I am'.52   He remembers following the river back to its source 'among broom bushes / In a gully above the dam', but all he found there was a deserted house and a tree with 'one bitter shrunken apple'. The experience taught him 'nothing but how to die'.53   Where the river runs out between two rocks into the cattle flats with the rotting weed and logs in the swamp like the bones of giants, he and his 'crooked shadow / Bring with us briefly the colour of identity and death'.54 He cannot return to 'the rock bend' up river 'past the cattle ground' as it was when he was a boy, when he could glide in his canoe over 'a hole going down to the world's centre, / Waiting to swallow the sun' or could drop his line into 'the bog-black water' while sitting on 'a branch of the oldest tree'.  When he was a youth 'He'd swum in that cavern, down to the bottom' to discover a 'riddle' which the man now answers with death. The adult thinks that if he  were there now he would be 'the invisible drowned man' beneath, 'too tightly held / By the weed's arms to rise  / Again to the dazzle of the day '.56  If the adult returns, the river is no longer like'a smaller Amazon',  but rather  now
               The river

     is foul weed and sludge


     than I had supposed, fed by

          a thousand drains.57

When  he returns in the late 1960s, even Black Bridge is gone, 'under fifty bull- / dozed yards of gravel and dry clay'.

These images of the river as the indifferent process of Time, involving inevitable loss, are all from the Brighton River.  The neighbouring Taieri , 'the river that goes / Southward to the always talking sea',59   also features in the poems, but is not so consistently symbolic.  Where it leaves the gorge and moves into the estuary at Taieri Mouth  the poet sees it as 'the old water-dragon / Sliding out from a stone gullet', while further up the gorge it bends 'like a bright sabre'.60  To the poet on his brother's boat in the river it seems to speak, "Does it matter? Does it matter?"  and its tidal nature seems to symbolise his own inner state, 'carrying like salt and fresh inside me / The opposing currents of my life and death'.61    On the other side of the gorge, on the Taieri Plain, it takes on other significances.  When the poet looks down on it from Scroggs Hill when it is in flood and has 'covered paddocks, sheds, and fences',  the sight moves his 'inward guardian' to say to him 'All / Knowledge, my son, is knowledge of the fall'.62  The process of association is obscure (except that almost everything brings Baxter to the Fall), but it is probably  Noah's Flood that provides the implicit link.  At Henley, the river before it enters the gorge becomes a perhaps overdetermined  symbol to one of Baxter's dramatic monologuists, a suicidal adulterous commercial traveller.  He  sees the river first as 'Jehovah's book' and then dreams of suicide beneath its 'serpent waves', swallowed by the 'bog-black stream'.63   In his prose commentary on the poem, Baxter also refers to the Styx and to the Norse world serpent in relation to the river,  sees both it and the Leith as symbolising 'the obliteration of the conscious mind by subconscious forces', and points to the traveller's imagined view of himself as a decomposing corpse among the trout and eels as 'a very apt  image for any South Islander acquainted with the Taieri and the Clutha rivers'.64 


Here perhaps the literary mythology  overloads the natural image.  Less complexly, when the younger poet sees the rapid river in its other, steeper gorge, between the Strath Taieri and the Taieri Plain, the 'raving river' becomes a metaphor for the blood associated with sexual passion and pain. 'River, cattle flats' thus did supply Baxter with images, but 'waves, rocks, beaches' are even more significant in his mythology of place.  Brighton is not only the fallen Eden, but its beaches are places 'at the fringes of the human domain, where the City encounters the Wilderness, [where] artists are able to discover those forms which become the treasures of their race and the real knowledge which liberates the intellect'.66  In 'Symbolism in New Zealand Poetry', he listed no less than four symbolic meanings for beaches:
     as an arena of historical change, the arrival and departure of races;

     as a place where revelations may occur;

     as the no-man's land between conscious and unconscious;

     as an arena for sexual adventure.67

In his own poetry, the first of these meanings is associated with the Bay at Brighton, where the Brighton River flows into the sea.  The image of his Gaelic-speaking ancestors arriving at the place and crossing the river becomes the central image in a tribal myth, a myth that incorporates the third, the historical Fall, the Fall into modern rational and technological secularism, but a myth that also looks back to the dream of building a Pastoral Paradise and a Just City.  In the uncollected 'Ancestors', the poet has a vision of those first  settlers, 'heirs of hopes', as they cross the river, but realises that they are all 'hunched in their last cradles'
     . . . leaving our plight

     To be fed only by shreds of windy light,

     Fibres of dark in the river's rope and fable.68

The image is picked up in the prose of 'Conversation with an Ancestor', where Baxter describes the image of the crossing, sees the dawn sky as intimating 'a new thing, a radical loss and a radical beginning', sees the settlers, as Scott Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway imaginatively saw the Dutch sailors before Long Island in The Great Gatsby, and eloquently expounds their significance for him:

     . . . and the earth lay  before them, for that one moment of history, as a primitive and  sacred Bride, unentered and unexploited.  Those people, whose bones are in our cemeteries, are the only tribe I know of; and though they were scattered and lost, their  unfulfilled intention of charity, peace, and a survival that is more than self-preservation,  burns like radium in the cells of my body; and perhaps a fragment of their intention is  fulfilled in me, because of my works of art, the poems that are a permanent sign of  contradiction in a world where the pound notes and lens of the the analytical Western  mind are the only things held sacred.  I stand then as a tribesman left over from the  dissolution of the tribes.

The view of his ancestors is complex.  They are seen as heroic, coming to New Zealand to create 'a Utopia, a Happy Island, a Just City in which the best of the Old World would survive, taking new Antipodean forms'.70 However, they were defeated by history, their 'country virtue' was 'betrayed' by gold when the new colony was swamped by the gold rush.  The young poet would not wish them to be alive again to share his Robert Lowell-ish vision that 'their orchard wealth decays' on 'gorse-choked farms' while 'our markets thrive / Dry tinder, touchwood for the final blaze'.71   But their intention went unfulfilled partly because of what they brought with them, a negative Calvinism that knew 'their Christ or no Christ ' only in 'the raging crackle of  / These fire-blackened thorns', so that they left us with 'the green blood / Of thorns that thickens in our veins'.  Our society, then, has 'a strong Calvinist bias unconsciously received by us from our forefathers, the early settlers', a latent puritanism that it 'carries like strychnine in its bones', or, to change the image, that 'underlies our determinedly secular culture like the bones of a dinosaur buried in a suburban garden plot'.72 These forefathers, the poet's great-uncles and great-aunts, had 'strong chains in heart and head', could deal with 'Adam's dirt' only by repression and projection, so that 
     the lack ate inwardly like

     fire in piled-up couchgrass too

     green for it, billowing smoke. . . . 73

Thus for Baxter that mythical scene of the ancestors crossing the river at Brighton Bay relates to a complex ancestor myth, one in which the ancestors both, as remnants of the primitive tribe, contrast to the present technological and rationalistic culture, and, as puritans, carry the seeds of that culture's disease.  This complex myth appears again in the last section of 'Notes on the Education of a New Zealand Poet', when the poet again contemplates Brighton Bay, 'where a thread of brackish brown water is flowing out to the river mouth, where the early settlers crossed once, leading their horses'.  He feels an 'unfathomable sadness' as he views the place.  He would like to imagine that the bird-tracks left on the hard sand on the beach were 'made by the feet of human dancers, meeting around an altar or a bonfire in a nightlong dance, men and women joined, or perhaps women only, honouring the Earth Mother'.  That is, he attempts to imagine a more primitive tribe than his ancestors, unfallen; but present-day Brighton stands in utter contradiction to such a vision:
     But the glass-fronted houses above the bay will supply no ritual, nothing to join the  intellect or body to the earth it came from - only TV aerials, trucks of bricks, washing  hung out to dry, ice cream cones stacked behind the counter of a shop - the trivia of a 
  culture that has ceased to understand itself. The spondaic thud I hear is not the noise of feet but the beating of my own heart.74

The poet turns to the buried rocks in the wet sand flats, which he sees as 'the half-buried limbs of . . . the Titan Prometheus,  principle of the rebellious energy in man that enlarges our order by breaking it and allowing it to re-form in another pattern - an energy that our way of life dismembers and disregards'.  In the poem that he writes to honour Prometheus, the Titan's pain and gift, both repressed, are brought back to us by 'calamity, time, deeply thwarted desire', and as the poet contemplates Prometheus' limbs he feels the presence of the ancestors: 
           Only a pressure at

     The fences of the mind.   From clay mounds they gather

     To share the Titan's blood with us.74

But only the occasional ghostly presence is left to him, 'the tribesman left over from the dissolution of the tribes'.  Where his father's uncle could nearly kill a man who taunted him with having no tartan, the poet fears that 'the cloth has worn too thin', that there is nothing like that left to him to fight for.75

Thus the beach as an 'arena for historical change' operates for Baxter as a symbol within an ancestor myth.  The beach's other symbolic meanings tend to gather around the sexual one  for him. If the beach is a 'place where revelation may occur', the revelations are usually of Venus. 
Sometimes  she refuses to appear, and the revelation is aborted.  In 'Elegy at the Year's End', the poet walks down to the the Bay, but there is no revelation of  'green Aphrodite' rising from the sea 'to transfigure the noon'.  Rather, he hears 'the Sophoclean / Chorus: All shall be taken '.76  When at 30 he revisits Brighton, 'Venus with her thunder slept / On tired dunes, in grey maternal / Macrocarpa branches'.
77  When he returns ten years later to the 'smooth edge of the flax-covered cliff' below Big Rock that had tempted him to suicide when he was younger, 'gutted by / The opposites of sex and pain', 'No squid-armed Venus rose / Out of the surf', but rather he received from the 'hurdling water' the 'invisible spirit ' embodied in the poem.78   The uncollected 'Encounter with Venus', taking place at Tait's Beach rather than at Brighton, is more sardonic.  The poet walks the beach, thinking of 'how great Venus . . . has lately abandoned our shore', when he sees an object bobbing in the waves.  He wades out to it to discover 'our islands' emblem, a dead sheep' with 'a great swollen gut, putrefied':
             Yes, mate, indeed

     a sacred occasion!  Through

     the surf I stumbled back, dumb-

     struck by shades of nationhood.79

Again, at the Otago Heads, he looks down from 'cliff-top boulders' to see, not any Venus to be 'born / Out of the gulf's throat', but rather the kraken of the fog, whose 'wide / Blinding tendrils move like smoke / Over the rock neck, the muttering flats, the houses'. 80
When Venus does appear, she may be primarily a projection of desire.  While the teen-age poet could see her as 'the birth of beauty' as she emerged 'shining from the sea-foam',  the mature poet  imagines the boys on the beach at Aramoana constructing 'their sensual fantasy, which is also sacred',  transforming a girl with a surfboard into 'the image of Venus not rising from the sea but going into it'.82  He preaches to the men at of Holy Cross that 'That long-haired girl upon the beach / With her eyes half-shut' is there because he had 'found / A Venus in the heart', and if they judge her they 'turn her from a pretty girl / Into a demoness'.
83 At Brighton, 'That girl in her beach suit loitering among the dunes is no longer a figure of Venus' to the forty-year old poet who is no longer 'fighting the wars of Venus'.84 At Long Beach,  in contrast, the sleepy middle-aged poet is brought back to life by an 'apparition of the goddess Venus' in the person of 'A girl like a green hard stringy lupin pod',  his 'venereal thought / Constructed out of air or nothing. . . .' 85

The most positive revelation associated with a beach is sexual, when Horse and Fern make love on an abandoned gun emplacement above the surf:
 It was the hour of the hawk, not the hour of the dove.  While the waves chiselled at the rocks below, the mythical identification with all things living was achieved. 

'The goddess sex' had 'led him through a low doorway to the only earthly paradise'.
86   At Tunnel Beach the 'hour of the dove' is experienced, but the revelation is more ambiguous. 
The sexual act seems to 'shut out sea thunder', to bring doves that still 'the lonely air'.  But then the poet hears 'the voices of the sea's women riding / All storm to come', and he is  not left with the doves of love but rather  'combers grinding  / Break sullen on the last inviolate shore'.
A passage in the later 'Letter to Robert Burns' provides a gloss on that experience, as the poet praises it for putting him in touch with the 'biology' and 'mythology' that our culture represses and that are essential to the poet:

     And I must thank the lass who taught me

     My catechism at Tunnel Beach

     For when the hogmagandie ended

     And I lay thunder-struck and winded,

     The snake-haired Muse came out of the sky

     And showed her double axe to me.88

Twenty years later the poet returns to the same beach.  If  twenty years before,'Venus came over the sea' to the lovers, 'Lying (as so many do) / In one another's arms',   she  had left them 'Like shards of a dish the spade jars on'.  This time what the poet sees is the cliff above the beach: 'a high stone Rhadamanthus / Washed by the black froth of the sea'.89    As the notebook drafts make more explicit than does the final version of the poem, Baxter wishes us to recall not so much that Rhadamanthus was king of the Isles of the Blessed, where the lovers may temporarily have beached, but rather that he was judge of souls in the underworld, where the lovers will end, their moments of bliss long ago lost.  Thus in the version entitled 'The Tunnel' the poet makes explicit that he had not seen the cliff as a young man, 'made / Blind by Venus', but now he sees it as 'the myth / Of judgement when love dies'.90
If the beach can sometimes be the place of ambiguous revelation associated with Venus and the sexual experience, it is more often a less exalted 'arena for sexual adventure'.  As such it is seldom positive in its implications, for it is associated with 'the wars of Venus, the bitterest of all, to lose', which the forty-year-old poet claims to be relieved to be beyond, leaving him 'a little nearer to that community of the living and the dead which I have looked for all my life'.
91 The sexual adventure is associated with a complex of recurring images involving lupin, sandhills, the Brighton bathing sheds, the Brighton boathouse, summer, Venus personified in girls in bathing suits, frustrated or exploitive sexuality, condoms, and masturbation.  The poet remembers the older boys with the 'big girls': 'Under the lupins, whispering in the dirt, / They imitated dogs'.92   Or, later, he sees  himself as 'savage empty boy / Haunting the bathing sheds',  drawn to and afraid of the older girls, 'furiously inventing a unicorn / Who hated the metal of Venus'.93    He remembers youth and 'the same sweet lie the lupin teaches' as it drops its 'gay pollen' on the frock and the bare leg and shoulder of the girl.94   The depressed and hungover Horse looks out in the morning on 'the treeless Domain' with a few 'early cars from town' already there, and thinks that later 'A few young men would take their girls into the lupins that grew along the sandhills, to lay down their overcoats and bang them in peace, absorbing the healing influences of the sea and soil.'95   In middle age, the poet walks the beach, 'Beyond the high-banked green domain / Where boy and girl lying in lupin mazes / Pluck the dragon's apple'.96   He remembers that 'From Black Head to the bar of Taieri Mouth' his father's uncle 'scattered lupin seed', and he thinks of the lovers who find cover there, leaving 'pale condoms' under the bushes with their 'bright female bloom' and their 'pollen blown over the wide stretch-marked belly of the sea'.97   The boathouse across the road from the river mouth and Domain he also associates with youthful sexuality.  He remembers the 'lifted frock' and 'the boathouse spree and the hayloft bed', 'white legs among the cords and rowlocks', and  his attempts 'to learn the tricks of water / From the boathouse keeper's daughter'.98  A married man in middle-age, he is still haunted by 'The floating feather / Of adolescent love' that he associates with the boathouse, and it is one of the icons of Brighton that he 'left behind in going to the city'.99    But it is the lupin that comes to mind most frequently. He imagines the 'rumbustious bad young man' (with echoes of Fairburn) persuading  the young girl to 'make the two-backed beast' 'under the yellow lupin', and then leaving her.100 He depicts the young man at the dance persuading the girl to come with him into the dunes at the mouth of the creek to defy the morality of her great grand-uncles 'In tartan plaid and moleskin cloth'.101  At the bonfire on the beach, he imagines how the young lovers later in the evening 'two by two will vanish / Into the dunes', their 'widening flesh' possessed by the spirits of the Maori who made a midden of shells on the beach.102   In his more Dylan Thomas- ish moods, he  stands  on the 'Low lovers' dune', hears Parson's Rock 'preaching to . . . the lupin-sheeted / Bed of the sway backed sinners', while he 'alive must grieve / For the true flesh time wounded. . .' , or he climbs  'to Barney's pulpit rock' and imagines the lovers: 
     Among night dunes the moony lovers 

     In lupin shade far and near 

     Twined under Venus' carnal star 

     Mock the power of the prince of air. 

     Their doomed flesh answers an undying summer. 103

Those  rocks  between sea and beach obviously symbolise a kind of permanence that 
contrasts to the transitory flesh.  'The stubborn rocks withstand / The ebb and surge of 

grief'.104    Barney's Island is a presence reminding us of the limits of our technology and the 

small scale of our time: 

     The island like an old cleft skull 

     With tussock and bone needles on its forehead 

     Lives in the world before the  settlers came 

     With gun and almanac.105

The poet preaches to the gulls from 'Barney's pulpit island side', and he feels most secure in 

his work when he is 'standing on the rock of real knowledge'.
106    The fisherman on the rocks of Barney's Island becomes the image of the poet fishing  into the unconscious to find the dark material for the poem: 
     While loud across the sandhills 

     Clangs out the Sunday bell 

     I drop my line and sinker down 

     Through the weed-fronded swell, 

     And what I see there after dark 

     Let the blind wave tell.107

     I go on the beaches when the tide is low 

     And fish for poems where my four dead uncles, 
     Jack, Billy, Mark and Sandy 

     Let down their lines from laps of broken stone 
     For the fat red cod and small-mouthed greenbone.108

The symbolism of the rocks varies.  If those half-buried rocks between Barney's Island and the swimming beach  become the limbs of Prometheus, Lion Rock out off Big Rock, surrounded by the sea, 'shaped like a lion, fronting the south, / With mane of greybrown kelp alive and coiling', is associated with a cynical love affair between a young man and a middle- aged woman living in a cottage opposite it.109   To the older poet it seems to speak of death: 
            out there 

     Where the waves never cease to break 

     In the calmest weather, there's a hump-backed 
     Jut of reef - we called it Lion Rock - 

     Growling with its wild white mane 
     As if it told us even then 

     Death is the one door out of the labyrinth! 110

With Lion Rock, as with Barney's Island, rock as symbol merges with island as symbol. 
Baxter as critic has interpreted the island  in Curnow's terms as 'a symbol of isolation from 

European tradition, both in place and time'.111  The island in his world is Green Island

primarily a marker of the boundaries of his little world, but also to the young poet  in 1944 a symbol of isolation, more natural than cultural: 

     Stone sea moves southward; the volcanic island 

     Scrub sides quiet, surf-eaten 

     In antarctic isolation 

     Breasts that tideless flow.112

Islands, however, are not a major Baxter symbol, and rock images relate more frequently to the symbol of the cave or protective ledge. On a stormy night the older poet avoids the cliff-top overlooking Lion Rock, where he had contemplated suicide when he was younger (and where he did not see Venus), because 'the sea's throat / Is filled with the voices of oldest friends / Who offer what the living cannot find'.113 However,  there is also a 'Rock ledge above the sinuous wave' where the suicidal impulse was quieted by 'A rock carved like a woman, / Pain's torso, guardian of the place', a 'Magdalen of the rock' who can 'ask for us the death hour's peace'.114  There is also a rock chair on Big Rock, sitting 'over the whelming / burst of recurrent breakers / down there in the channel outside / the bay' which offers the reward of 'difficult safety' and seems to relieve the sense of stress.115  Near there is the cave on Big Rock  where he could 'listen to some greater I / Whose language was silence', and feel his despair and his sexual tension eased by 'a silence that accepted all'.  The cave becomes at the end of the poem the womb of the Earth Mother: "Open, mother.  Open.  Let me in".116  The poet remembers his first poem as coming when he 'climbed up to a hole in a bank in a hill above the sea' and there 'first endured that intense effort of listening' from which the poem emerges.117   That  experience in turn relates to the limestone cave below Saddle Hill, off Creamery Road, where 'The smell of the earth was like a secret language / That dead men speak and we have long forgotten', and he could feel protected from 'age's enmity and love's contagion'.118

If caves symbolically become the womb of the Earth Mother, then hills become her breasts, the landscape her body.  When he flies north out of Dunedin, the poet sees the land below in those terms: 
     My mother Gea below me is undressed 

     Showing her stretchmarks got by long childbearing.119

When he flies to Dunedin to take up the Burns Fellowship, he sees that 'a quarry like a cancer / Has cut away half of the smaller breast of Saddle Hill'.
120  A prose commentary makes more explicit the significance: 
     . . .  perhaps . . .  a wiser but less affluent society might not have allowed half of Saddle  Hill to be cut away - a symbolic amputation of one of the breasts of the earth mother.121

At Aramoana  he turns away from the Venus figure in the surf , the dream construction of the boys on the beach, to 'my dream, in nooks / below the sandhill cone, where Gea / speaks in parables of rock'.

   The prose commentary spells out the implications: 
     . . .  my own dream, my way of hiding myself from death, from the lack of spiritual  support in all created things, is to turn  to the least demanding and the most supporting  reality, Gea, the earth herself, the oldest of the tribe of gods.  The sandhill cone is her 

     breast, the mats of cutty-grass cover her ancient vagina - my words, if they are to make  sense, depend on her and return to her as the symbolic ground of existence - away from   her I feel lost. . . .123

But Gea is not the ultimate reality in Baxter's symbolic Brighton world.  Rather it is the sea. 
If he finds peace in contact with the Earth Mother, a return to the womb in her caves, he still finally turns to the ocean, where 

     . . . the sea aisles burn cold 

     In fires of no return 

     And maned breakers praise 

     The death hour of the sun. 124

Its meaning is paradoxical: 

     as symbol of death and oblivion; 

     as symbol of regeneration. 125

In the semi-autobiographical 'The Prisoner Describes Himself', the speaker remembers how powerful was the formative presence of the sea when he was young on the Kuri Bush farm
         I began my life within sight of the sea.  Looking out through the gap in the  brushwood fence I would see the blue-grey waves where currents moved like great  serpents, and at night the smell of the sea was in my nostrils when I fell asleep. . . . 

          All night the sea moved in my blood. . . .  The sea carried me always on its breast like  a floating bundle of kelp. 126

In 'The Waves' 'the slow language of the waves' seemed to the adolescent  to 'give hope of truth to come' in a sexual encounter, a 'dark meeting / With  a woman with a body like the moon'.  However, the moon became 'Goddess of sexual pain' and left the young man contemplating the sea with 'poison crystals' whirling in his blood.  The middle-aged poet hopes to find some ruler beyond 'the flux of fire, / Salt tides and air' other than the goddess of sex, a way to share the 'fluid motion' of the waves instead of fighting it, and acknowledges that 'the flesh I love will die, / Desire is bafflement.'  He ends by identifying with Noah, hoping that true knowledge will come as he is keeping watch 'while the dark water heaves'.127 In many poems 'the thunder of the obliterating sea' suggests death, but only in death will freedom be found: 'The ocean I / Once feared, I love more than the frozen land'.128 'The unique left-handed saint', the dark creative force within him, tells him 
     . . .  that Sophocles 

     Heard in the thunder of Greek seas 

     On beaches grey with ambergris, 

     On the recoiling serpent hiss 

     A voice proclaiming to the land 

     That men are banks of broken sand . . . .129

The October storm at Brighton, 'the great sea-devil or the wind of middle age', may induce in the poet 'bad dreams / In which the sea has taken charge of the land',  but it is finally a 

liberating force, freeing him from 'the chains of Eros':

     . . .  turn to watch 

     The tide flood in at the river mouth, 

     Washing under the bridge, making the canoes float 


                            Freedom by death is the chosen element. 

  The black strings of kelp are riding on the tide's cold virile breast. 130

At Goat Island at Long Beach the poet hears 'the sea god's voice' echo off the cliffs and turns away from 'the young girls in their pink blouses' to the liberating power of the sea: 
            Blessed be 

     The sea god's hammer that will break 

     Dome after dome the cages of the land 

     And set the dead men free.131

The sea cave, with its 'kelp smell, / Sea smell, the brown bladdered womb' is tempting, but he finally must turn away from comfort to face the sea itself.132   On the beach at Aramoana,  the poet finally turns away even from Gea to 'where the black swells begin' and beyond that to 

     where the serpent current flows 
     out of the harbour gates
, long- 

     flowing, strongly tugging at 

     the roots of the world. 133

For the sea 

     is the image of death, the separating and dividing void, which nevertheless is the source 

     of my joy. The serpent current betrays the world by delivering it into the hand of God, 

     yet man is not a creature of earth, his renewal can only come out of the storm, out 

     of  the void, out of the depths of God.  And the serenity of God's silence is the 

    answer to  man's prayer. 134

The world of Brighton and its coast was thus central to Baxter, the place where the twenty- five year old poet imagined he would wish to be buried...
          Know I loved most when alive 

          A certain bare coast open to the South 

          Where ocean and continual gales do strive 

          In hoarse green breakers by a river mouth. 135
It was the place that formed his poetic consciousness: 

         There is no coast I can compare to this. 

           Here is the ampitheatre of my dreams 

           Where once, a lonely child, I made 

           My own mythology of weeds and shells 

           And grew acquainted with the moods of Death 

           Till we were friends, old friends.136

His Brighton environment gave him the material for a full symbolic world, both a fallen Eden and a world in which natural images body forth the basic powers and patterns of life.  As Vincent O'Sullivan has said, 'The Otago coast and hinterland - the only landscape, he said, he ever really loved - provides precisely adequate detail for most moods, and for their mythical embodiment'.   Brighton and the coastline from Taieri Mouth to Long Beach are thus at the centre of his poetic world, but they are flanked by two other important aspects of his symbolic universe, the City, represented by Dunedin, and the Wilderness, represented by Central Otago

The City to Baxter is the human domain, an imperfect emdodiment of the dream of the Just City, 'a City of a kind', one which is 'finite, exact, and reasonable, designed for the fulfilment of limited aims'.138  The crucial symbolic elements in the city townscape (except for the pubs) are all there in a prose passage in which the middle-aged Baxter confronts the site of his youthful rebellion and wonders 'What happened to that stupid sad young man?. . .  Who killed cock robin with his drumming heart and his head full of feathers?': 139

Time, said the Town Hall clock, the four-faced master of the windy year.  Sin, said the First Church spire, needling up to the Otago heaven of tombstone clouds.  But the Leith Stream, the last and only woman in the world, lulling the dead sky in her arms,  sighing under bridge and over weir down to the flat crab-wet harbour, had nothing at all to say.139
In the symbolic world of Baxter's City, there are on  the one hand the forces of the living death of bourgeois respectability.  The three clocks - 'the railway clock, the Town Hall clock, /  And the Varsity clock'- are a recurring symbol of them, as they 'clang early summer time / Across the town cold as a Shacklock range',  or as they  mark off the night hours, 'genteel, exact / As a Presbyterian conscience'.
140 They 'fill the conduits of air' with somewhat different messages. The Town Hall clock cries 'honour me', while the railway clock reminds us that 'Each traveller . . . /  Has the horizon for a hangmans's noose, / Will end in a small stone cell'.141'The imperative clang'142 of the clock tower of the University is more various.   To the young poet it says merely 'learning and secrecy;' while 'frowning at the wicked weirs', while the young man in 'Cressida (a lyric sequence)' associates the clock ironically with the lecturer in the classroom clearing his throat and speaking 'Of McDougall's instinctive drives'.143   It  implicitly reminds Horse on behalf of the repectable Dead that he has been wasting his time at the Bowling Green Hotel, while   in 'Walking up Castle Street', it speaks to the narrator more directly      Its voice reverberated and grew in the Presbyterian silence. 
         - You're late!  You're late!  You'll be late when the trumpet's blown.  I've seen you, I  know you.  Where were you on Monday?  Drunk in the Bowling Green.  Where were  you on Wednesday?  Smooging in the town belt. Where were you on Friday?  Nobody 

     knows.  What would your parents say?  What will the examiners say?  No application. 

     No team spirit.  No sense of decency at all. . . .

         Grey as a hangover conscience, the old clock looked down on me; but as the chimes died irreverent sparrows flew back in a cloud to squabble and skitter and nest in his elder's hat.

In the unpublished 'The Clock Tower' it attempts 'to save / us from ourselves' with its 'fatherly' emphatic explanations, but to the poet it is merely a 'petrified phallus', to be blessed perhaps but not to be loved like the mother Leith.145 The church spire is not so much in evidence as the clock towers in most of the writings, but it too is associated with the phallic fathers, 'Being so finely built / On Calvin's masturbative guilt'.146   Horse takes note of its obscene parody when he walks 'quickly along the edge of the Queen's Gardens where the floodlit war memorial pointed a dead phallus at the stony heavens'.147    The poet in 'To a City Father' puts the point more bitterly, calling the cenotaph 'The great stone prick of Old Man Death'obscenely erected 'to celebrate / A million graves, a million rotting bones / That fertilise your interest and security'.148   Death is likewise associated with the images of secular repectability, the lights of suburban houses, as Horse looks at them: 
     The lights of Anderson's Bay glittered steadily, each point of light indicating a suburban  hutch where people talked and yawned and killed time, afraid of the graveyard night   outside their windows.

The young Baxter similarly watched as 'The lights of a mausoleum-to-be glittered on the hills beyond the harbour'.150 Opposed to the images of 'a culture kept alive by the drug death' in Baxter's symbolic City,'Calvin's town', are those asociated with Bohemian revolt, experienced by the poet when he 'made a mother of the keg, and 'the town split open like an owl's egg / Breaking the ladders down'.151 First there are those 'fat pubs of the harbour town' in which 'it seemed more safe to drown' than to stay in 'this boneyard peace / Of ceremonious dying' at home.152 They are there in profusion, the Green Island, the Grand, the Shamrock, the Oban, the City, the Royal Albert, the Robert Burns  and, most important, the Bowling Green, the 'student's home from home. . . 
where Mahomet's coffin hangs between earth and heaven waiting for the six o'clock judgement', the place where Horse learned 'the basic metaphors by which the human spirit expresses and conceals its tenderness, is grief, and its longing to return to the Garden of 

Eden'.153   The patron saint of the pubs is Robbie Burns, 'King Robert' on his 'anvil stone / Above the lumbering Octagon', and Baxter identifies with him, feeling that the reason for Burns' ' mandrake groans / Is wrapped like wire around my bones'.
154   The statue, 'dry on his stump above the Octagon, was waiting for the traffic to stop so that he could step down to the Oban Hotel, bang on the bar and order a bucket of gin and harpic'.155 The poet imagines 'the sad old rip' grunting 'upon his rain-washed stone / Above the empty Octagon' and saying "O that I had the strength / To slip yon lassie half a length!"156


The Dunedin World

The young poet, sleeping off his Burnsian frolics on a bench in the town belt, the hours marked by the three clocks, discovers himself at 'the absolute unmoving hub',  with the sense of nada  that is 'the beginning of knowledge', so that the bench becomes another symbolic place of revelation.157   A different place of revelation is the Castle Street flat of his first love, the place where  'a certain act' did occur, the place where he 'found the point of entry, / The place where father Adam died'.158   When he returns to the site of flat  twenty years later, he finds that 'They've bricked up the arch' that used to lead to the flat, symbolising his inability to return to that youthful ardour.159 The holy places of Bohemia stand against the symbols of deathly respectability, but the most powerful symbol in the city is a natural one, the Leith, associated with sexuality and other natural forces that persist even though channelled and charted.  The 'crinkled labia of blossom / On the trees beside the weir' symbolise the sexual experiences that 'Captured and held the fugitive / From time, from self, from the iron pyramid'.160 'The Leith Stream's roar' (in most  unlikely fashion heard from his lover's flat on Royal Terrace) symbolises to the traveller of  'Henley Pub' the uncontrollable force of 'natural sexual power'.161 


Outside the University  buildings, the 'grey Leith water drum[s] / With laughter from a bird's beak at what their learning has left out'.162   She is contrasted to the authoritarian father clock tower, with its 'petrified phallus', for while the poet can only 'bless' somewhat equivocally the clock tower's 'house of learning or obfuscation', he loves 'the untouched breasts of my / mother, dark muse and succubus, / unconnected with our human knowledge', serenely 'flowing below the ledge / where gulls preen feather by feather / a whiteness that will die / soon'.163  The young poet observes how 'On smooth cylindrical weirs Leith-waters glister'.164   The middle-aged poet  on a Sunday family  walk sees the weirs as 'passionate almost beyond bearing', and the middle- aged narrator of 'Walking Up Castle Street' associates them with a 'girl ghost in an overcoat . . . waiting at the bridge, with dark hair and a voice like weir water'.165    But the passion seems mostly to be sexual pain   There is a recurring image of 'a streetlight on  / The muscled Leith water' associated with a lovers' quarrel, so that it becomes  an 'ikon' that haunts and burns him, a symbol of the failure of love: 
     For me it is the weirs that mention 

     The love that we destroy 

     By long evasion, politics and art, 

     And speech that is a kind of contraception: 

     A streetlight flashing down on muscled water, bodies in the shade, 

     Tears on the moonwhite face, the voice 

     Of time from the grave of water speaking to 

     Those who are lucky to be sad. 166

When Fern breaks with Horse, she returns to him a stone phallus he gave to her, and as he goes from her flat to the Bowling Green he gazes 'speculatively at the water frothing over the weirs' and tosses the phallus into the Leith.167   But when the despairing middle-aged poet has a destructive sexual encounter in 'the garden by the river', the river has a calming effect as it seems to symbolise life moving  towards  death: 
     Kisses scald.  Words crush.  But the river 

     Flowed on, in a bell of calm, to whom I said, 

     'Pray for us, Mother.  We are not yet 

     Able to die -168

The images of the City, then, from Dunedin, complement those from Brighton and the coast to form a fuller symbolic world, although the dominant image among them, that of the Leith, clearly relates to his other nature symbolism associated with Brighton.  But there is also Baxter's third world: 'Alongside the human City, indifferent or even hostile, remains the Wilderness, whose time is still that of the sixth day of creation and whose works belong to the Power that created her'.169  In Baxter's Otago poems the images of the Wilderness come primarily from Central Otago.  These images are related to those of  the sea, for if the sea can be 'the void white thundering wilderness - which symbolises the negative side of god's mercy', similarly  'the huge ice torrent' that is Fox Glacier represents 'some other kind of love' which could descend on us, 'yearning over our roofs / Black pinnacles and fangs of toppling ice'.170 For Baxter, consistently the Wilderness symbolizes this 'negative side' or 'other love', the fearful power of God that is beyond human understanding.   From the first in his poetry, 
    Still the great symbols stand: 

     The mountains and the sky 

     Commune beyond our day; 

     And breaks on shores of pain 

     The unimagined sea. 171


The Central Otago World

The mountains, like the sea, are symbols,  as are the plants, animals, and rivers, 'Expressing in the nouns of a buried language . . .  A female eloquence, the coin of death / Turned over'. They are always available, even if we do not see them, 'Explaining to those who dare not  love or die'. 172

The dominant symbol of this group is that of the mountains: 

as protective maternal symbols 

as symbols of ideal purity

as menacing and hostile powers.173

Of mountains as maternal symbols there is not much in the poetry; Saddle Hill obviously served much better.  In his own copy of the early poem, 'The Mountains', where the tiger-like mountains do not appear very maternal  (although they do 'wait / As women wait'), Baxter had noted 'Mountains are mothers', and twenty years later,when he returned to the Naseby that had inspired that poem, he wrote that he 'must have been mad!  There are no / mountains here'. That later poem, however,  is about neither mountains nor mothers but  rather about the differences between the middle-aged poet and that 'grim boy' who was his younger self.174   If the mountains take on a female aspect  in other poems, it is sexual, not maternal.  Mt Iron on a hot day is an image brought to the sleepless younger self of the poet by thoughts of the body of Pyrrha, from whom he has been divided nine days.   And in the poem that Mr Grummet recites to Horse in the Bowling Green, a poem that later appears as 'Mountain Poem' in A Selection of Poetry and as 'At Raspberry Hut' in the notebook and the Collected Poems, the 'mitred mountain' becomes 'the black mare of rock' neighing at 'the sky stallion'.
176 Sometimes the mountains symbolise purity.  In the Matukituki Valley, the mountaineers find 'light reflected / Stainless from crumbling glacier, dazzling snow', and observe 'Sky's purity; the altar cloth of snow / On deathly summits laid'.177   In the Haast Pass the poet sees 'the pure glacier blaze'.178

However, in both poems the purity is a secondary attribute related to glacier and snow surfaces, and the mountains are primarily images of a frightening power that is too much for most humans.  And this symbolism runs right through the poetry.  In 'The Mountains', 'The mountains crouch like tigers. / They are but stone yet the seeking eyes grow blind'.  The blindness is because the mountains 
have a 'flame that reaches / Among familiar things and makes them seem / Trivial, vain'.  The poet chooses to flee the mountains and 'go to the coastline and mingle with men', just as in 'Haast Pass' he turns away from the Wilderness to 'the tired faces in the pub', and in 'Poem in the Matukituki Valley' he turns away from the mountains: 

     Therefore we turn, hiding our souls' dullness 

     From that too blinding glass: turn to the gentle 

     Dark of the human daydream, child and wife,

     Patience of stone and soil, the lawful city 

     Where man may live, and no wild trespass 

     Of what's eternal shake his grave of time.179

Although Baxter himself related 'The Mountains' to Naseby, his mother related it to the Matukituki Valley and an early family camping trip, James' first experience of the mountains,when they had decided not to proceed up the valley because 'we had an overwhelming sense of the menace of mountains, which loom over the Matukituki'.    Certainly that menace appearsin poem after poem.  In the generalised landscape of 'Prelude N.Z.' there are man-unmastered mountains' from which Pakehas, unlike the Maori, are not shielded by their gods. In 'O lands seen in the light of an inhuman dawn' the 'nearing mountains stone crested . . . leaning and silted Druid monolioths', seem to be 'murmuring madness' and gaze with 'stone eyes', while in 'Luggate Pub' the poet feels 'the 'snow blind peaks' annihilation'.182  In 'Love-Lyric IV' the 'inhuman natural curves' of the 'skyline silhouette' 'will / never alter while / we watch them'.   In 'Naseby', 'the dark peaks will hold / Their peace beyond our knowing' when human beings have disappeared.184

This power and indifference might be read naturalistically as an indication of a world without God, but Baxter reads it theologically, the mountains being 'His flawed mirror who gave the mountain strength / And dwells in holy calm, undying freshness'.   As such they can have a therapeutic value as well as a frightening effect, for they provide a perspective beyond our egos and troubles.  Thus the almost Wordsworthian tone of the early Wanaka poem, 'High Country Weather', where the vision of the 'red-gold cirrus' shining 'over snow-mountain' can cause the 'stranger' to 'surrender to the sky' his 'heart of anger'.186   In 'Thinking About Mountains ( I)', the poet asks himself why he, a middle-aged family man in the city, should dream of taking off up the Matukituki Valley into the mountains 'like a wild goat', and speculates 
        . . . It could be certain places 

        Stand for an insight or tranquility that should 

        Be part of us - or rather, perhaps 

           Cannot ever belong to us while the world is falling.187

In the second poem in that sequence, the insight offered by the mountains is dark: 

         The wind that hurries its way over the icefields 
            Has no voice and no face, but its manner of moving 

            Implies the hardship of the human soul - 

            Exposure, darkness, bleak abandonment 

            On the crags of light. . . . 

However, the darkness is also of God, however obscurely: 

         What made the mountain also made the soul 

             But left us there to plough these narrow fields . . . 

             That are not fields where heroes and ghosts go moving, 

             Each soul a darkened flame, to their abandonment 

             In God, but fields of death beside a wakeful river. 188

In a  poem about the Milford Track from around the same time (1966-68), the awesome landscape is associated with the state of being 'free / Of all time's rubbish', beyond desire and self-concern, the 'black seed / Of Adam' becoming free from 'its need to be' as the individual comes to accept his death: 'Only the dead / Walk easily through doors of solid stone'.189 In an unpublished addition to 'High Country Weather' the 'troubled breast' and the 'contentless mind' of the 'stranger' are quieted not only by the 'snow mountain-crest' and the clouds but also by 'The torrent voice resounding / In gorges blind'.190  The rivers of Central Otago are rapid, even torrential, not  like the sluggish Brighton River, and become, like the mountains,  symbols of inhuman, sometimes terrifying, but ultimately divine natural power. There are 'rivers leaping with immense inertia past gorge and derrick', with an 'opaque blindness . . .  Showing an eye-universe inanely innately blind', and the Kawarau is a 'grey- green dragon'.191    The Matukituki has 'boulders  huge as house's, like 'dice' thrown by the mountains, and is shown as drowning a calf,  an experience that Mr Grummet tells Horse about, pointing the moral that "It is difficult to avoid being swept away".192  After heavy rain the river near the old Aspiring homestead becomes a 'waste river turbulent in flood / Where bones of trees roll' and is contrasted to the cows' (and the people's) need for 'the heart's revelation / Of hearth and labour, stall and habitation'.193 This country of menacing mountains and wild rivers is inhabited by appropriate creatures who form part of its symbolic system.  There are the birds of prey, hawk, eagle, and falcon. They may symbolise the amoral cruelty of the natural order or the natural killer and hunter in man.  The eagle is beautiful in 'the simplicity / Beyond simplicity of the machine / Whereby he drops, kills with curved talons', while the hawk hunting the hare becomes 'man the hawk and man the hare', pursuing 'their unrelenting passage here', and  the 'broad hawk. . . blood on the iron talon' is associated with the poet in his fallen adult state, after 'Time slew the first Adam'.194    Part of the hawk in man is his sexuality, especially male desire.  In 'Let Time be Still', 'fallen from his cloud / The falcon find[s] / The thigh-encompassed   while in 
'My love late walking' 'my hawk . . .  flies / Down to your feathered sleep alone / Striding blood-coloured on a wind of sighs'.195   In the beast fable poem, 'The Mountaineer', 'the red- winged kea' speaks for the wild element in man and nature,  as opposed to 'the fat brown weka', who speaks for timid safety and the evasion of the wild.  The kea understands both the death wish and the joy in the fallen mountaineer, but he also eats of his flesh: 

     'I see the dried blood on your beak,' 

      Chirped the fat brown weka.196

The mountaineer himself was also an inhabitant of the Wilderness. At McKinnon Pass  near the phallic monument to the explorer (the cross has been added and is 'irrelevant'), McKinnon is grouped with 'mountaineers, deerstalkers, /  Guides. . .  men of the death-bound kind', and is contrasted to 'You who  lie / In dry beds'. 197  Similarly, in the Matukituki Valley the poet contrasts himself to the moutaineers attempting Mt Aspiring (like McKinnon associated with kea) and speculates that they achieve 'a communion with what eludes our net, Leviathan / Stirring to ocean birth our inland waters'. Thus sea and mountain imagery come together in expressing the 'negative side of God's mercy', and the mountaineers, who possibly experience 'the hermit's peace / And mindless ecstasy ' are the contemplatives who seek that aspect  of God,  men who 'unconsciously aspire to sanctity by way of the discipline of mountaineering'.198

Brighton and the Otago coast, as the Fallen Eden and as the fringe between City and Wilderness, Dunedin as the City, both bohemian and Calvinistic, and 
Central Otago as the Wilderness - these are Baxter's three Otago worlds, contributing the images that become 

symbols in his mythic structures.  They are the mythic backdrop against which his mythologised life, the central subject of his poetry, is acted out.  A study of Baxter's poetic notebooks, putting the published poems in the context of the unpublished ones, shows that 
there was a definite pattern of development in the use of Otago images.  In the very early poems (1937-41) they scarcely appear.  The nature imagery is not from the New Zealand world so much as from English poetry and also the English countryside (for he did spend 1937-38 in England at Sibford School).  The few specific places evoked are European: Serrieres, Loch Leven, or the countryside around Sibford, with its streamlets, meadow grass, and moorland hills.

A poem from 1941 about a rocky island is not about Green Island, but rather some unnamed island 'Beneath the glinting of a northern sun'.199 When a New Zealand image appears, it is in the tradition of the poems in Alexander and Currie, as the very early 'Ode to a Tui' which opens 'Hail! Feathered songster of the bushland wild'.200   Dunedin is the first named Otago place, but the imagery is conventional and generalised.

Allen Curnow praised the early published poems because they showed that Baxter 's imagination sought 'forms as immediate in experience as the island soil under his feet',202  but that quality actually only slowly emerges.  In the poems of 1941 images from Brighton and from Central Otago begin to appear, although unidentified: the rocks and waves of Brighton Bay, the sounds near the Brighton River  - the croak of the bullfrogs and 'the far-off beat of the sea', the 'dry shingle- plain' near a lake.  By 1942-43, local places and experiences are taking definite form as Baxter writes about this 'land of sombre hills and streams', composes a Worsdworthian first version of the poem that will become 'Wild Bees', or describes a glacier-wall or the weirs in the Leith.   The 'Love-Lyrics' of 1944, some of which make it into Beyond the Palisade, are about love of the land, the almost sexual relationship being stated most explicitly in 'At Balclutha': 
     . . . the land leans to me 

    That I should praise her grace of form and feature, 

    That I should laud her gesture and her glance.205

Such poems exhibit clearly the qualities that Curnow had praised, and Otago images are frequent in the remainder of the poems of the 1940s. They become less frequent in the poems written in Wellington in the 1950s and early 1960s, although in  person sometimes or in memory more often Baxter returns to Otago 'to get back a full sight of loss', to be 'Delivered from a false season / To the natural winter of the heart'.206 That 'imaginary journey over the neck of Big Rock' 207 is especially evident in the Pig Island Letters  poems of the early 1960s. The poems of the Burns Fellowship years and those immediately following, the poems written between 1966 and 1969, are, naturally enough, full of Otago images taken direct from life as well as from memory (or, sometimes, from the interplay of the two), used in a more mature way than in the early poems.  In the last years a new iconcography and mythology arises from Jerusalem and to a lesser extent Wellington and Auckland.  What turned  out to be the last act in the mythic drama of self was acted out before a different landscape and different cityscapes and with different tribes, drug addicts and social drop-outs rather than his Gaelic ancestors or his bohemian drinking friends. The Otago images recur, however, when Baxter remembers Eden, 'the rocks at MacKenzie's corner / Where the river and the road both take a sharp turn',  or when he dreams of 'Lazy swimming greenbone', or when he meditates on his father's death and thinks of 'the demon- / hearted breakers and the worn / elbows of seastone'. 208   Certainly many of his strongest and most characteristic poems start with Otago images, often giving Baxter that 'reality prior to the poem', the 'New Zealand referent', the 'contact with base'209 that Curnow thought that he needed.

They are  an integral part of the material from which he weaves a coherent poetic myth inclusive of and greater than his individual poems, one of the great imaginative creations of New Zealand literature.