This is the full article from 1981:


 An Interpretation of  Allen Curnow's 'Moro Assassinato'.

Allen Curnow's sequence 'Moro Assassinato' draws together prevalent ideas and images from his entire poetic output, no that it bears a certain authority and inevitability of diction. In that sense it may be taken as the culmination of his work, which moves back to its point of departure with consummate elegance and incorporates the historical and geographical dimensions which the poet lacked fifty years ago. Notwithstanding McCormick's observation that Curnow is 'that rarity among writers, a poet whom it is profitable to discuss in terms of influences’, (1) the key to an understanding of 'Moro Assassinato' lies in a careful reading of the poet's own earlier work. In this sense, reviewers of the collection for the most part mis-read the sequence: Rob Jackaman admired this 'late but very welcome re-flowering of one of the senior plants in the New Zealand poetry bush’, (2) [my italics] yet overlooked the essential internal consistency and continuity of the sequence; Peter Simpson found the Italian setting to have been anticipated in The Duke's Miracle, (3) although Curnow himself asserted that there is not much of Italy in that play—saying of Browning that 'my business was with his fiction, not his fact’. (4) Desmond Graham completely missed the point in stating that the 'individual tone from which the power of the collection stems had come to me as a distinctly New Zealand voice’, (5) while Alan Roddick was 'left with the misgiving that the sequence may be no more than brilliantly empathetic journalism’. (6) 

'Moro Assassinato' is not a New Zealand poem, and neither is it an Italian poem; it is certainly not journalism. And it is precisely in superceding these artificial limitations and creating,. poem which draws so many threads together that Curnow has made his masterpiece. He has provided a compelling answer to his own query: If a poet can't know his country, which he has seen, what can he do about the universe, which he hasn’t?' (7) Curnow's work is permeated by a three-ply of geographical, historical and religious imagery reflecting his predominant anxieties; thus a three-fold reading of his work will demonstrate the sense in which An Incorrigible Music—and especially 'Moro Assassinato'—represents a culmination. The geographical and historical anxieties have been expressed by Curnow himself, and briefly discussed by Jackaman in his review. But the religious anxieties, and the deep religious undercurrent to Curnow's work, have not been examined sufficiently. (8)

Allen Curnow's first published work revolves around his decision to enter the church, and to move to Auckland in 1931 in order to study; his first volume, Valley of Decision (1933), was published as he made a new decision to leave the church. He has described these changes of direction as fits of 'young poet's idealism and egotism’, (9) but the signs remain. The opening poem of that first collection, 'Sea Changes', is an astonishing foreboding of 'Moro Assassinato': 

                    Strange times have taken hold on me, 

                    strange seas have locked across my eyes, 

                    thick in the twilight undersea 

                    unheard-of silence heard these cries. 


                    Out of the glimmer of green waters 

                    the ringing deafness of dark seas, 

                    such dim-forgotten sons and daughters 

                    of love and cold-flesh death are these: 


                    Uncertain are they hunting on 

                    and all their faith's inconstancy; 

                    they are who touch and straight are gone 

                    yet have no other where to be. (10)

where the strangeness, the visual richness, the idiosyncratic use of 'green', the 'cold-flesh death' and 'faith's inconstancy' already map out a part of Curnow's poetic territory. 

The manifestly religious poems of this collection give an indication of the poet's preoccupations. Thus, in 'At The Brink', the lines: 

                    for perfect things must needs be dead 

                    or live alone in perfect praise

foreshadow the gradually increasing images of blood and sacrifice in his poems. Yet with the exception of 'Sea Changes' and 'At The Brink' these poems lack the characteristic images of sea/ ocean/lake/bay/water/tide/island/waves/harbour/beach, and one might suggest that the religious indecision or anxiety lays deeper than those others the poet has described. 

As he opens up the historical dimension of .his work, for instance in Enemies (1937), so the images of sacrifice multiply. The images of `blood's green quickened' in `Factory at Night' and 'green music' in 'A Woman in Mind' coagulate in the `living blood' of 'Mountain Elegy', a poem pervaded by rich imagery and colour, whose second section deals explicitly with sacrifice: 

                    The eye is now withdrawn, extreme reach of self

                    and extreme sacrifice, in rhythmic reasonless flying; 

                    nothing heard or seen, everything heard and seen, 

                    that topmost life realised once in dying. 

An open return to a religious context imbues the beginning of 'Slum' with a peculiar force which looks forward to the simpler diction of his later work: 

                    Walking in the garden of our Father 

                    I find evil places; it is rather 

                    as if honouring death we 

                    had planted here Gethsemane. 


                    Though Christ came from God, he 

                    taught as the love of death and agony. 

The pervasive atmosphere of 'Slum' and `Orbit' touches the sensitive membrane of historical anxiety, while `Paid Well'—the final poem of Enemies—delineates his current attitude towards the world and its past, a perspective which has been unsettled by his own uncertain relationship to the past—which may or may not be characteristic of New Zealand, but certainly reflects the poet's spiritual uncertainty. 

With Not In Narrow Seas (1939) Curnow added the geographical dimension to his anxieties, and opened the central part of his output which may be said to climax with At Dead Low Water (1946). As he said of Narrow Seas, `it had to be done’. (11) It represented a necessary spiritual exorcism on a personal, creative level which was continued through the critical stance developed in A Book of New Zealand Verse (1945) and The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1960). But again it is the religious undertone of this historico-geographical anxiety which is most revealing. The history of Narrow Seas is in the notes rather than in the poems and the two islands exist as symbols of something more profound: in poem IV, New Zealand is explicitly identified with the new Jerusalem, a Blakeian promised land transposed to the Pacific (and re-evoking the Blakeian visions of 'At the Brink'). Curnow's favourite colours and images crowd into Poem V as symbols of the new beginning: `Blood in the climbing limb .. . Green grows the bungalow . . . A fresh start in life/ With a blue-new shovel/ And a rusted belief. In Poem VI `The bishop boundary-rides his diocese/ Carrying the sacraments at saddle-brow;'. Similarly the prose note to Poem XII stresses the need for sacrifice and suffering, and reads as a retrospective prophecy of Curnow's predicament. 

The sequence closes with an Epilogue which returns to the geographical isolation of New Zealand, forcing once more the parallel with Blake by its formal structure—based on Blake's 'My Silks and Fine Array’. (12) But beyond this immediate, tangible concern it is the emphasis on the necessity of suffering, of en-during pain and sacrifice in order to create the new Jerusalem which is the most striking element of this collection. 

In Island and Time (1941) and Sailing or Drowning (1943) the muse of geography predominates, but there is simultaneously—in the midst of concern with the 'island'—an increasing use of images of blood, violence and sacrifice which perhaps reaches its acme in the closing lines of 'Landfall in Unknown Seas': 

                    . . . The sailor lives, and stands beside us, paying 

                                  Out into our time's wave 

                          The stain of blood that writes an island story. 

This sums up Curnow's attitude towards historical sacrifice and looks forward to his later perception of the Pazzi conspiracy and the murder of Aldo Moro, both conceived as necessary sacrifices. But as we shall see the later concept of sacrifice is absolute, since it is perceived as integral to human life rather than a vital element in the creation of an ideal society: 'Reproduction but not resurrection', as Curnow foreshadowed it. (13) This perception is not present only in 'Landfall in Unknown Seas'. In 'The Unhistoric Story' the lines 'Morning in Murder's Bay,/ Blood drifted away.' point the way, and it seems to me much more than what Roddick dismisses as 'local emotional appeal. (14) Images of blood occur in fourteen of the forty-three poems in these two books, 

re-inforced by ten further poems containing images of violence, murder, pain, sacrifice and death. From the verbal and metaphorical violence of `Expect No Settlements' to the prophetic conclusion of the pointedly titled 'A Victim', in which Curnow tells the story of Jan Tyssen, 'killed by Maori when Tasman anchored in Murderer's Bay in 1642', the same perception informs and charges the poetry. Tyssen was sacrificed to make New Zealand, and then forgotten by the ungrateful people: 

                 ... Blood bloomed and vanished where the wave 

                     Mouthed for the fruit of as they slew. 


                     I, Tyssen, first blood to the south, 

                    Turned Tasman from that hateful haven. 

                    Your history's cold, and cold's my death, 

                    Past pity, past anger, past forgiving. 

These lines have discovered the mature tone of An Incorrigible Music

This tone carries over into Sailing or Drowning, which begins strongly with 'Discovery' and continues so through the magnificent sonnet sequence, especially 'The Navigators' with its murder, violence and 'hands that will not come clean'. It is a technically perfect sonnet, with the extraordinary link between the octave and sestet, 'slept/ And sleeps', switching the sense of the poem from past to present—a concatenation of Curnow's obsessive imagery, mature tone and rhythmic power. Roddick has described this sonnet as a poem about ambition, stating that the 'rational successful hands' and 'rational violence' recall imagery from Macbeth (15) and the guilt in that play; but 1 should like to argue that the underlying element of necessary sacrifice is more important. It is not merely to assuage guilt that Curnow calls for a wave big enough to wash 'your red ones green'. Blood generates life: red becomes green after the sacrifice and is, in Dylan Thomas' words, 'the force that through the green fuse drives the flower'. This recognition of the metamorphosis of red into green marks a pivotal moment in Curnow's understanding of the past, and his own country. In his more lyrical passages the most unexpected objects become green, and it is pertinent to observe the frequent occurrence of the adjective 'green' in his poems: at a quick count, it occurs 25 times against blue (16), yellow (14), white (10), and thus down to single occurrences (in all 19 colours). This unusual proportion of 'green' is interesting, as are the strange conjunctions with nouns: 'green music', 'green innocence', 'green grenade' and 'green myth'. It is in his perception that green derives from red, life from blood or a new society from sacrifice, and in his sustained and original juxtapositions of these ideas, that Curnow encapsulates his anxiety and thoughts about New Zealand. But out of these local concerns Curnow was already developing a poetry of international stature. 

The first stage of this development came with 'Landfall in Unknown Seas', and carries through to such superlative achieve-ments as 'At Dead Low Water'. From the tightly constructed first stanza: 

                    At dead low water, smell of harbour bottom, 

                    Sump of opulent tides; in foul chinks twirl 

                    Weed and whorl of silt recoiling, clouding 

                    The wan harbour sighing on all its beaches. 

With its sonorous onomatopeic opening phrase re-inforced by the heaviness of 'sump', the poem moves upwards and outwards, from the spiralling alliteration '. . . twirl/ Weed and whorl . . around the harbour, working towards the 'whole terror of time and patience' which generates the dominating images of the poem. The religious image of the Flood is always present in the back-ground, and the powerful concluding couplet: 

                    Meaningless but for individual pain 

                    No death, no birth relieves or lunar pulses drown. 

The second stage comes with the publication of An Incorrigible Music. Curnow's empathetic understanding of and proximity to a political kidnapping enabled him to feel the suffering implicit in it, and stimulated his poetic imagination in the central sequence 'Moro Assassinato'. 'Moro Assassinato' stands within a collection whose character had already been decided 'some months earlier than the kidnapping of Aldo Moro’. (16) In a sense it is a sequence placed within a previously designed sequence: as M. L. Rosenthal and Sally M. Gall have argued: 

‘A poem depends for its life neither on continuous narrative nor on developed arguments but on a progression of specific qualities and intensities of emotionally and sensuously charged awareness. A successful long poem, and the modern sequence pre-eminently, is made up of such centers of intensity. Its structure resides in the felt relationships between them.’ (17)

Clearly—as Jackaman has intimated without attempting to theorise or link the fact to Curnow’s earlier work (18) — the acts of sacrifice irradiate the 'centers ot intensity’ of An Incorrigible Music. It is the intense sincerity and seriousness of purpose, perhaps unleashed by Curnow's proximity to the Moro kidnapping and empathy with the situation in his host country, which generates the 'felt relationship’ between 'Moro Assassinato' and the already written sequence 'In the Duomo’.

Yet the balance is precarious, and difficult to sustain. As Rosenthal and Gall continue: ‘The process of association and of modulation among shifting intensities is both psychological and cultural in its contexts of reference. It involves the feeling of obsolescence, the need to recover an identifying past.’ (19) Such moments of intensity would be unbearable if they were not relieved: hence Rosenthal and Gall seem right to stress the need to counteract psychological and moral tension by comforting images of childhood. In this case, the geography of New Zealand and activities such as fishing, the details of Moro's clothing, and the old lady at the end of the poem, represent modulations between 'centers of intensity'. Thus the reader can understand and accept the shifts and weaker moments in the overall intensity of the collection. 

And it it intense: Curnow states in a prefatory note that it was 'impossible to live in Italy from early April through June, reading the newspapers, catching the mood from chance remarks or no remarks at all, and not to be affected.’ (20) It is this mesh of pervasive actuality and the poet's life-long obsession which pushed 'Moro Assassinato' to become the centre of intensity of the volume—a superb and powerful poem which picks up and develops the themes already present in the nucleus that formed 'the character of the sequence'. 

This was possible because of the consistency of Curnow's interests. Several critics have noted that the title of the first poem of An Incorrigible Music, 'Cant Thou Draw Out Leviathan With an Hook?' derives from the Book of Job, (21) but do not appear to have connected this fact to the omnipresence of Job in Curnow's earlier poems. 'Sea Changes', quoted above, echoes the language of Job as he curses the day of his birth (Job 3.3-3.5), and the frequent images of light and darkness in other early poems indicate the influence of the imagery of Job. Similarly 'Behold Now Behemoth' (nine poems after 'Sea Changes') takes its cue from Job 40.15, and the presence of Job can be felt behind many of the poems of Valley of Decision: themes such as the innocent man and sacrifice and the quest for wisdom and understanding derive from Job's predicament. God's anger, and the resounding rhetorical questions of Job 38-39 inform the great question placed by Curnow in 'Power of the Many': 

                    Against these eyes where is a man to hide? 

and link the terror of Job in the presence of God to that of Curnow at his moment of decision. Indeed, Job himself says—while explaining how wisdom is to be achieved by means of God—`Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding' (28.28). But when Elihu seeks to explain the importance of wisdom in chapters 36 and 37, God himself answers 'out of the whirlwind': 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?' (38.1) and begins the series of rhetorical questions about Leviathan from which the title is taken (41.1-41.10). 

The choice of the title, and its placing at the beginning of the book, is not a matter of chance but indicates the deeper significance of the poems and the sense in which An Incorrigible Music draws upon a lifetime's thought and writing. Will you be caught?', the italicised line which concludes the first section of 'Canst Thou Draw Out Leviathan', echo the questions in Job 41, 3-6, while the lines: 

                    if anyone knows a better it is a man 

                    willing to abstain from his next breath, 

refer back to Job 38.2 and the 'words without knowledge'. The images of the first stanza also echo 'Sea Changes', with 'Green river knife' and 'blood rust' emphasising continuity. At the back of the reader's mind is the fact that the Book of Job ends with a sacrifice, ordered by God himself—after which he 'restored the fortunes of Job' (42.10) and 'Job died, an old man, and full of days' (42.17). Thus An Incorrigible Music opens with a necessary sacrifice, ostensibly of a Kahawai and in New Zealand, but universalised by biblical references and the complex identity of the 'fish' in question: the Kahawai is Leviathan, the whale, which represents the Devil in medieval symbology and also works as a metaphor for 'island': 

‘According to ancient legend, the huge body of the whale was often mistaken by mariners for an island, and ships anchored to its side were dragged down to destruction by a sudden plunge of the great creature. In this way the whale came to be used as a symbol of the Devil.’ (22). 

This complex imagery—the fish as a symbol of Christ, together with Kahawai/Leviathan/Devil/Island—opens the collection on a strong note, and it is clear how this imagery, culminating in the final line: 

                    A big one! a big one 

could accept and make the centre of itself the assassination, sacrifice and ‘martyrdom' (23) of Aldo Moro. The Italian politician, identified in 'Lampoon' (Section III of 'Moro Assassinato') as 'the biggest' and 'the top Christian Democrat' himself serves as metaphor for an even 'bigger one': Christ himself, and the book whose climax is his sacrifice: 

                    There's only one book in the world, and that's the one 

                    everybody accurately misquotes. 


                    A big one! A big one! 

Thus we return to the Bible, and in the context of Curnow's work specifically to the Book of Job. But before 'Moro Assassinato' there is the sacrifice of Giuliano de' Medici, where the necessity of sacrifice is once again stressed:

                    Giuliano de' Medici

                    bled where he had to


and reference to the 'necessary knife' in the last line. Rob Jackaman has perceptively, and uniquely, seen the importance of the sacrifice: 

‘Each of the 'offerings' in the sequence so far—fish, Christ, and Medici—is described in identical terms as floating 'in a red cloud of himself', emphasising their unity in blood-shed, their kinship in the world of the poem irrespective of time and place. Imaginative continuity . .. is guaranteed in the verbal artifice by significant details which echo and re-echo through the verse fabric—the blood, the cloud, the rust, the scales.' (24)

But he does not mention the continuity of this poem with Curnow's earlier work. 

With the violent kidnapping by the Red Brigades, in which Moro's five personal bodyguards were machine-gunned to death, Italy's bloody past was given a present dimension for Curnow. 'In the Duomo' had already evoked Italy, and although there is nothing of the country in The Duke's Miracle the idea of bloody sacrifice is present even there—in the Duke's reference to 'the first who bore/the name/And wrote it out in blood'. These distant allusions to Italian history were knocked into the present and stimulated Curnow, who was by chance in Italy at the time. (25) His ideas were brought to life, and one can sense his involvement as he shifts focus from Venice to Rome and then to Naples, moving across Italy as the tragedy plays itself out around him. What was merely beautiful and literary in 'Spectacular Blossom': 

                    An old man's blood spills bright as a girl's 

is charged with a new reality when that man becomes Moro, and a nation is put on edge by the question, will his blood spill? 

The powerful opening lines of 'Moro Assassinato': 

                    All the seas are one sea, 

                    the blood one blood 

                    and the hand one hand. 

lead straight to the heart of Curnow's concern with sacrifice, and emphasise the universality of experience. New Zealand and Italy, past and present, are one in their suffering: details of Venice introduce the reader to the new setting, while evocations of New Zealand assure the connections. The narrator presents himself 'deciphering/the morning's Corriere’, and the Moro affair is brought in with real narrative skill, obliquely through his wife's suffering. Her presence animates the last five stanzas of the first poem which had almost lost the impetus derived from its opening in a mass of cluttered detail. In fact, Curnow's enthusiasm in utilising all possible references to Jesus, and the Piazza del Gesù in Rome where the Christian Democrat headquarters is situated, leads him to confuse the Jesuits (Gesuiti) with the Gesuati; for the church of Santa Maria del Rosario on the Zattere belongs to the Gesuati—founded by San Giovanni Colombini in 1360 (26) —and not the Jesuits. This is not mere pedantry, for it is when Curnow forgets touristic detail and uses his full imaginative powers to evoke the anguish of Moro's wife that he produces some of the most intense poetry of the sequence. 

The second section, 'An Urban Guerrilla', represents a sharp change of tone, and of viewpoint. Taking an interview with a German terrorist as his departure point, Curnow imagines the life of the terrorists of the Red Brigades in their hide-out. Again his imagination excels real detail, and shows how wrong Roddick is to describe the poem as journalism. The first and last stanzas, which seem to me the most powerful, are wholly imagined. In the second stanza, where the transmutation of the original material is complete, as in the lines: 

                    the faces that came and went, 

                    the seven of us comrades 

                    like the days of the week repeating 

                    themselves, themselves, 

which derive from 'You were always sitting around with the same people in the some flat with the same personal problems that were never solved’, (27) the gain is obvious. But when Curnow quotes, for instance the phrase 'had an almost sexual relationship with pistols', the detail seems to lead him astray: the three-line parenthesis which follows is gratuitous and in a false register. On the whole, however, this poem evokes the stress of the terrorists' lives extremely well. 

'Lampoon' represents another, completely successful change of tone. It is an essential part of the sequence, not especially scurrilous, reading almost as a music-hall turn—the technical virtuosity of Whim Wham. The 'lampooning' derives from Curnow's virtuoso use of metre and rhythm rather than the content: 

                    Nobody less than the biggest

                          would do, and who was that? 

                    Five times Prime Minister, the top 

                         Christian Democrat. 

With the unexpected hardening of the closing lines, it seems to me one of the most successful poems in the sequence. 

The next poem, '16 March 1978', with its curiously unbalanced parts, suffers from comparison with the excellence and precision of 'Lampoon'. The first part consists of four nine-lined stanzas each beginning with the word 'normality', and further repetitions—particularly in the third stanza—deflect the reader from the narrative flow maintained up to this point. Curnow seems to have fallen victim to the facile sonority of the phrase 'moment's mixture'—which really does not mean much—and its re-occurrence two years later in 'The Parakeets at Karekare' (London Magazine, July 1981, collected in You will know when you get there, 1982) suggests an exaggerated fascination with it. If such repetition is intended to emphasise the monotony of Moro's situation, then it must be said that the simple repeating of a single word, 'themselves, themselves', in the second section of the poem, works much better. The strange second part of the same poem, with its shifting tenses and speaker, is more successful. 

But Curnow returns to his full power with the marvellously colloquial poem 'The prison of the People', where the brutal reality of the scene shocks when it is made explicit within the easy-going conversational rhythm. Similarly the surprise, imagined by Curnow (but now substantiated by the confessions of the repentant terrorists during their trial (28) of the terrorists when their photograph of Moro was actually printed by the newspapers, and the flat, understated statement 'They printed this', show the poet in full control. This section reveals the full drama of the kidnapping, now seen from the point of view of the Red Brigades, and prepares the reader for perhaps the most moving poem in the sequence, 'The Letters'. 

Curnow reflects the various moods to be found in the letters—'at first discursive, then exhortatory, then implacable and thundering, . . . finally begging …’ (29) — in his transcriptions. But they are more than simple translations: the poem is beautifully structured, with the letters to Moro's wife standing at the emotional centre. The reader passes through the uncertainty about Moro's handwriting, and the problem of whether he was drugged as he wrote them, perceiving the imprisonment afresh through these 'documents'. One is reminded of the terrorists' assertion that 'he knew us better than they' by the intelligence of the letters, which conclude with his most notorious statement deprecating his Party and the State in a noble affirmation of his sense of betrayal. The calm and certainty at the end of his life, and at the end of this poem, have been tailored to recall the serenity of Christ at his crucifixion—an even greater betrayal. The last lines: 

                    I ask to be followed by the few 

                    who have truly wished me well and are therefore worthy 

                    to go with me in their prayers, and in their love.

echo the New Testament, enforcing the comparison and consummating the sacrifice. 

Three poems remain: 'The Executioners', '9 May 1978', and 'The Poor'. After such a centre of emotional intensity as 'The Letters', the lighter couplets of 'The Executioners' lead Moro to his death with just the right amount of detail, but from the outside. The imagined detail—Moro's socks inside out, the fact that the first bullet 'clipped off the thumbnail of the left hand'— enrich the poem; the real details—the Renault 4 and the Beretta 7.65s—are in this case essential and economically deployed. On the other hand, from the overly didactic and guide-book opening of '9 May 1978':

                     Circumvesuviano is the railway 

                     to Ercolano, Pompeii, 

                    Torre Greco... 

which has little to do with the development of the sequence, to the cluttered local detail of the third stanza, this poem stands out as the weakest and least essential of all. It clearly represents an important moment in Curnow's experience of Moro's kidnapping and murder, but again demonstrates how the poetic transformation of vague or imagined facts is on the whole more satisfactory than simple statements of fact. 

The simple, magnificent and uncluttered final poem, 'The Poor', with the straightforward use of a single observation concerning the Italian method of publicising a death in the family, points up the failure of '9 May 1978'. Curnow returns to the tone of 'The Letters', manages to explain the Italian custom without being didactic, and introduces the elegant and moving finale. A grandmother who sits nodding in the sun, and the printing shop (tipografia) 'which is always busy' with such posters announcing death, show exemplary use of local colour—with the simple words 'for Aldo Moro' as for any member of the family. The last six stanzas catch the mood perfectly, and I think Jackaman is wrong in this case to over-interpret: when he writes about a 'grim scene presided over by a mysterious and rather sinister figure—an ancient crone’ (30) his adjectives 'grim' and 'sinister' together with the changing of 'nonna' from a simple grandmother to a 'crone' seem to me to inject into the poem a dimension which it lacks. It is precisely the simplicity and tenderness of this poem which make it work so well and provide a fitting conclusion to the sequence:  

     . . . Dreamlessly nonna nods 


           into her ninetieth year, 

          where she sits, catching the sun


          at the dark doorway; 

          over her, in black and white 


          run off at the tipografia

          round the corner, which is always busy 


          Per Aldo Moro 



          strikes off one more. 

This elegaic ending expresses the peculiar privacy of what may appear superficially to be public grief. 

That two or three poems slip from the high standard set by Curnow at the beginning of 'Moro Assassinato' does not detract from its overall power and artistic success; the concept of 'centres of intensity' necessarily implies moments of relative weakness. The intense underlying religiosity and the concatenation of re-current images and ideas in his work gives the sequence an undeniable power. It is in this sense that Moro's death may be said to represent the culminating sacrifice. 

Yet while the notion of sacrifice is constantly present in Curnow's poetry, there seems to be a subtle but inevitable shift in the meaning and interpretation of sacrifice. In the earlier poems, and prose notes to poems, sacrifice was perceived as an essential part of the attempt to create a New Jerusalem in New Zealand. Curnow stresses this in his choice of historical incidents as suitable subjects for poetry. Then, his empathetic understanding of Moro's predicament and the minds of terrorists seem to have sharpened his gifts and drawn them into a confrontation with violent present-day reality. Through this process there comes the recognition that sacrifice does not necessarily lead to the success which Job's sacrifice achieved: it is merely an inevitable part of the human condition, with no sense of progress implied. 

This culminating sacrifice, and the pessimism inherent in its expression, recognises that the New Jerusalem has not been created, and the parallels drawn between Italy and New Zealand emphasise the fact that New Zealand, too, is incorrigible. This may be interpreted as a conservative political response to the last fifty years of N.Z. history. Ironically, it seems to me, it is precisely at this moment of assimilating politically the new country to the 'Old World' that Curnow creates a work which is no longer a New Zealand poem but a work of universal merit.



1. E. H. McCormick, New Zealand Literature: A Survey, London, 1959, p. 117.

2. Rob Jackaman, ‘An Impossible Freedom: Some Thoughts on the Poetry of Allen Curnow, Pilgrim, No. 9, p.68

3. Peter Simpson, ‘The Stain of Blood that Writes the Human Story’, Islands, Vol, 7, No. 5. 1979, p. 548. 

4. Allen Curnow, Preface to Four Plays, 1972. p. 18. 

5. Desmond Graham, in Stand, Vol. 22, No. 4, 1981, p. 63. 

6. Alan Roddick, Allen Curnow, 1980, p. 57. 

7. ‘Conversation with Allen Curnow', Islands, Vol. 2, 1973, p. 152. 

8. Jackarnan, op.cit., discusses the historical and geographical anxieties but does not mention the religious content of Curnow's poetry. 

9. ‘Conversation’, op. cit. p. 146. 

10. Except for poems cited from An Incorrigible Music, all quotations are from Collected Poems 1933-1973, 1974. 

11. Note to Collected Poems, p. xiii. 

12. Roddidk, gives the text of Blake's poem (p.12-13) but makes makes some odd comments on this Epilogue. 

13. Part X, Narrow Seas

14. Roddick, op.cit., p. 15. 

15. ibid., p. 20. 

16. Note to An Incorrigible Music, p. 6. 

17. M. L Rosenthal and Sally M. Gall, ‘The Modern Sequence and its Precursors’, in Contemporary Literature, Summer 1981, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 308-325. 

18. Jackaman, op.cit., pp. 65-66.

19. Rosenthal and Gall, p. 316. 

20. An Incorrigible Music, p. 6. 

21. eg. Simpson, Jackaman and Roddick. 

22. George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, New York, 1966, p. 26. 

23. Flaminio Piccoli, then Secretary of the Christian Democrat Party, used these terms in an article in Il Popolo devoted to the fourth anniversary of Moro’s kidnapping (16-3-1982). 

24. Jackaman, op.cit.. pp. 65-66. 

25. The affair also had resonances in New Zealand. In the pertinently titled play Blood of the Lamb, by Bruce Mason, Moro was cited as a reason for the failure of a travel agency in Australia which specialised in holidays for Italian immigrants (Blood of the Lamb, 1981. p. 38). 

26. The Gesuati is the popular name for what is properly called the ‘Chierici apostolici di San Gerolamo’. 

27. Interview, ‘The Mind of a German Terrorist’, Encounter, Sept. 1970. pp. 85-6.

28. eg. by Antonio Savasta, in trial proceedings of Monday 3 May, 1982.

29. cf review of Robert Katz's ‘Days of Wrath: the Public Agony of Aldo Moro’ in the Times Literary Supplement, 11-7-1980. 

30. Jackaman, op.cit., p. 68.

'The Culminating Sacrifice', Landfall 153, Volume Thirty-Nine, No. 1, March 1985, pp. 22-36.