‘The Bay’ by James K. Baxter is a poem that laments the loss of the natural beauty of the bay and the surroundings. The contrasting images of the childhood of the poet and the present scenario create a lasting impact on the poet’s mind. However, Baxter’s view of humanity’s progress and its impacts on nature is paradoxical. The underlying sense is definitely of pain and the representation of the past is vibrant enough to incite awe for the beauty of the landscape. Moreover, the apt expressions without any exaggeration signify the degree of natural loss.
‘The Bay’ by James K. Baxter shares the poet’s memories of childhood. Children living near that area about which the poet refers to in this poem were close to nature. They bathed in a lake on the way to the bay and changed their clothes in a bamboo forest. Moreover, they raced boats and rode the logs floating on the autumnal shallows. But now the mature poet misses those memories and laments the natural loss in front of his eyes. Everything has changed. From the roads they ran, the areas surrounding the bay and the bay itself depict the effect of modernization. The water of the bay that once gave solace to the poet’s childish spirit, now “stand like stone and cannot turn away”.
You can read the full poem here.
‘The Bay’ by James K. Baxter consists of three stanzas. The first two stanzas have six lines each and the last stanza has eight lines in it. There isn’t any regular rhyming pattern in the poem. For this reason, it’s an example of a free verse poem. However, there are some instances where the poet uses slant rhymes. As an example, the first two lines of the first stanza and the second stanza contain an irregular rhyme scheme. The line lengths of the poem are also irregular. However, the most used meter in the poem is the anapestic meter. The poet also uses the iambic meter in the poem. The trisyllabic feet of the poem reflects a longing of the poet for the past.
‘The Bay’ by James K. Baxter contains several literary devices that make the poet’s thoughts more vibrant. Likewise, the poet uses alliteration in “where we” in the first stanza. The capitalization in “Nowhere” reflects an emphasis on the sense of this word. However, it’s a metaphor. By using this metaphor the poet refers to the present state of the place that lacks the beauty of the poet’s childhood days. Moreover, by using the word “loss” in the fifth line, the poet metaphorically says that nowadays children don’t prefer those alleys. They rather find pleasure in modern things except for nature. The last line of this stanza contains irony and a metaphor as well.
The first two lines of the second stanza contain an anaphora. There are several consonances in this section as well as the whole poem in the phrases like, “cliffs with carved names”, “boats from the banks”, “carved cliffs”, etc. There are also some repetitions in the poem. However, there is a metaphor in “amber water” and an allusion to the Maori legend of “taniwha”, the water monster. In the last stanza, the poet metaphorically compares the “little spiders” with modernity. Moreover, there is a personification in the phrase “outcrying surf”. Apart from that, there is hyperbole in the expression, “A thousand times an hour is torn across”. In the end, the poet uses a simile to depict the present condition of the bay.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
One the road to the bay was a lake of rushes
Not that veritable garden where everything comes easy.
‘The Bay’ by James K. Baxter talks about the poet’s childhood days in the first few lines of the first stanza. The poetic persona, here the poet himself, says how he along with his friends bathed in a “lake of rushes” on the way to the bay. Thereafter they changed their clothes in the shade of bamboo trees. It reflects that in old times children of that area were close to the essence of nature. But, the present situation pains the poet deep. Now, the roads only lament the absence of playful children who ran over it and created memories on the path. The alleyways once trodden by soft little feet are now overgrown. Such an image of the landscape depicts a sense of loss.
Moreover, in the last line, the poet intends an irony. Here, the poet makes it clear that he isn’t referring to the modern means of merriment. In the modern age, children get everything ready before they want. The poet says, nowadays “everything comes easy”. But, the poet feels proximity to the time when everything was pure, not readymade.
And by the bay itself were cliffs with carved names
Upstream, and waiting for the taniwha.
In the second stanza of ‘The Bay’, James K. Baxter recollects some images from the past. There were cliffs by the bay. People used to carve their names on it. The poet thinks of a hut on the shore by the Maori ovens. But, now those things have faded away. Moreover, the poet can clearly visualize those days when he raced boats from the banks of the pumice creek or swam in the shallows of autumn. He still remembers how cold the water was in the shallows. He along with his friends rode logs upstream and waited for the taniwha monster with excitement. Here, the reference to the taniwha legend refers to Maori culture as a whole. So, in the guise of natural loss, the poet also talks about the threat to the indigenous culture of New Zealand.
So now I remember the bay and the little spiders
And stand like stone and cannot turn away.
In the third stanza of ‘The Bay’ by James K. Baxter, the poet metaphorically refers to the driftwood and little spiders found on it. Here, the poet ironically uses two significant metaphors. Here, the “driftwood” depicts the Maori culture and the “spiders” represent modernization. According to the poet, like the spider modernization has its poison and it is quick in destroying the culture of indigenous people of a place. However, in the following two lines, the poet uses the stream-of-consciousness technique and inserts an image from his childhood. The poet visualizes the “carved cliff”, “the great outcrying surf”, and “currents round the rocks” that made the birds fly. This picture of the sea is used here for creating a contrasting effect with the idea present in the following lines.
In the upcoming lines, the poet talks about the present condition of the bay and the surroundings. People burnt the trees nearby to modernize the area. Their activities had turned everything upside down. The bay water that once was mobile now stands lifelessly like a stone. This scene makes the poet feel sad.
‘The Bay’ by James K. Baxter talks about the effect of modernization on the bay and also presents its impact on the indigenous Maori culture. James Keir Baxter (1926-1972), a New Zealand poet, was also known as an activist for the preservation of Maori culture. Here, in this poem, the poet’s voice reflects sympathy for the loss and an underlying protest against the cause of it, modernization. However, Baxter wrote extensively on this theme of cultural loss. His style and voice in his poetry got him many admirers. Allen Curnow, another New Zealand poet, was one of them. He once said Baxter was “the most original of New Zealand poets” living during his time.
Like ‘The Bay’ by James K. Baxter, the following poems are in parallel with the theme and subject matter of Baxter’s poem.
- Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth – Here, William Wordsworth talks about the purity of a child’s soul and how it fades away in adulthood.
- A Christmas Childhood by Patrick Kavanagh – Here, Patrick Kavanagh depicts the wonders of childhood and the perils of growing up.
- The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe – Here, Edgar Allan Poe talks about the theme of loss also present in Baxter’s poem.
- When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou – Here, Maya Angelou metaphorically presents the loss of loved ones and the impact of the loss.
You can read about 10 of the Best Poems about Childhood here.