5/08/2012

James K Baxter

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Choose TWO or more poems by one poet you admire, and with close reference to the poems write an essay to justify your choice.


One poet I admire is James K. Baxter, because this New Zealand poet deals with the issues of the society he lived in, using various techniques to reiterate these themes. Baxter published more than 0 books of poetry before his death in 17, and he opposed Western materialism, and advocated social change and the spiritual values Catholic faith and Maori culture. These views are prominent in two of Baxter’s poems, He Waiata mo Te Kare and The Ballad of Calvary Street. Also, in these poems there is constant reference to the lifestyles and cultures of New Zealanders. The Ballad of Calvary Street deals with the ugliness which he saw as being present behind the ‘decent’ façade of middle-class New Zealand life, while He Waiata mo Te Kare is a ‘love letter’ to his wife.


One important theme that Baxter dealt with during the 150’s and 160’s was the façade of the New Zealand middle-class. The Ballad of Calvary Street is one of his clearest expressions of this theme. Baxter extensively uses religious references to emphasise the barren lives of the old couple. This shows that the poem was written at a time when Baxter had converted to the Catholic religion. These references are shown in the title. Calvary was the place where Christ suffered and was put to death. It’s a comparison with the last four lines of the poem. Also a comparison with line four, where the old couple’s house is “an empty tomb”, the Calvary Street seems unlikely to be the source of any hope.


Baxter uses many figurative devices to emphasise his feelings and views. In He Waiata mo Te Kare, Baxter uses many similes such as “With skins like fine leather” to enhance the readers vision of his wife. To appeal to this vision, Baxter also includes literal images like “…my hands were blistered”. These create a rhythm which in turn creates unity � like that of his relationship with his wife even though they were no longer living together,


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In both poems Baxter draws attention to the social setting of New Zealand. He makes us aware of culture, religion and stereotypes. Baxter makes us aware of his cultural linkage with strong Maori phrases including “Taku ngakau ki a koe!” This translates in english to ‘my heart to you’ and again, show his Maori wife how much he loves her.


In Ballad of Calvary Street Baxter brings in symbols throughout his poems to show how unforgiving and resigned the relationship between the man and the woman is.


“And that affair with Mrs Flynn


(It happened thirty years ago)”


Baxter describes how the relationship is ‘going through the motions’ and the couple live in a sad isolation. The man’s ‘territory’ is the toilet and the woman’s the kitchen, as they seem to live very separate lives to one and other.





I admire Baxter and his poetry as it has made me aware of both social and economic issues, not only in New Zealand but also around the world. In Ballad of Calvary Street and He Waiata mo Te Kare Baxter asks questions that are rarely answered, which in turn leaves the reader to try and interpret. The techniques he uses and the way he approaches the subject in a cynical manner highlight these themes to an even larger extent.





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