Continuum by Allen Curnow, Analysis, Summary, Themes, Style

Experience the mesmerizing journey through self-reflection in Allen Curnow's poem 'Continuum.' Explore the interplay of nature, identity, and the elusive nature of time.

Poem Text

The moon rolls over the roof and falls behind
my house, and the moon does neither of these things,
I am talking about myself.

It’s not possible to get off to sleep or
the subject or the planet, nor to think thoughts.
Better barefoot it out the front

door and lean from the porch across the privets
and the palms into the washed-out creation,
a dark place with two particular

bright clouds dusted (query) by the moon, one’s mine
the other’s an adversary, which may depend
on the wind, or something.

A long moment stretches, the next one is not
on time. Not unaccountably the chill of
the planking underfoot rises

in the throat, for its part the night sky empties
the whole of its contents down. Turn on a bare
heel, close the door behind

on the author, cringing demiurge, who picks up
his litter and his tools and paces me back
to bed, stealthily in step.

Major Themes

The themes in the poem "Continuum" by Allen Curnow include:
  1. Reflection and Self-Exploration: The poem delves into the persona's introspective journey, emphasizing the act of self-reflection and the exploration of one's thoughts and emotions.
  2. Disconnection and Alienation: The persona expresses a sense of detachment and disconnection from the world, struggling to sleep, think, or connect with the subject or planet. This theme highlights feelings of isolation and alienation.
  3. Nature and Solace: Nature serves as a source of solace and refuge for the persona. They seek comfort and connection by immersing themselves in the natural world, finding solace in the moon, privets, palms, and the washed-out creation.
  4. Time and Disruption: The poem explores the disrupted perception of time, with stretched moments and a sense of time's unpredictability. This theme emphasizes the subjective nature of time and its influence on human experiences.
  5. Inner Conflict and Dualities: The presence of two particular clouds, one representing the persona and the other an adversary, symbolizes inner conflicts and external influences. This theme explores the complexities of human nature and the contrasting forces within individuals.
  6. Vulnerability and Transience: The chilling sensation, the night sky emptying its contents, and the persona's vulnerability evoke a sense of impermanence and the fleeting nature of existence.


• Persona is an insomniac • Describing his emotions in a sleepless night – confused between rational and irrational • Setting: Night time, in his house

Split in two parts

Part 1: Reflection and Disconnection

In the first part of the poem "Continuum" by Allen Curnow, the persona observes the moon's movement over their house. They acknowledge that the moon's actions are metaphorical and symbolize their own self-reflection. The persona expresses their inability to sleep, focus their thoughts, or connect with the world around them. This creates a sense of detachment and restlessness.

Part 2: Seeking Solace in Nature and Time's Disruption

In the second part, the persona decides to step outside barefoot and leans from the porch, seeking solace in nature. They gaze across the privets and palms, immersing themselves in the washed-out creation. The moon-dusted clouds become symbols of inner conflicts, one representing the persona and the other an adversary influenced by external factors. The stretched moments and disrupted progression of time add to the persona's disorientation. They experience a chilling sensation and witness the night sky emptying, evoking a sense of unease and vulnerability.

Critical Analysis

In Allen Curnow's poem "Continuum," the persona's contemplation of the moon's movement becomes a metaphor for self-reflection. The inability to sleep or engage with the world highlights a sense of restlessness and disconnection. By stepping outside and immersing themselves in nature, the persona seeks solace and a renewed perspective. The contrasting clouds symbolize inner conflicts, influenced by external factors. The stretched moment and delayed progression suggest a disruption in the perception of time. The chilling sensation and the emptying night sky evoke a sense of unease and vulnerability. The persona's return to bed is accompanied by the author, representing a merging of creative and introspective aspects. Overall, the poem explores themes of introspection, the fleeting nature of time, and the interplay between self and the surrounding world.


• Figurative when irrational, literal when rational
• Personification: ‘moon rolls over the roof and falls’ suggesting hallucination
• Pathetic Fallacy: ‘dark place’, ‘night sky’ suggesting depression
• Juxtaposition: ‘dark place… bright clouds’ suggesting irrationality
• Repetition: ‘the moon’ emphasis on night time


• The poem is free verse (no rhyme)
• Suggests that his confusion is fluent
• What is consistent is that each stanza is 3 lines
• Also enjambment is evident in nearly every stanza and line suggesting flow of distorted thoughts

Sound devices

• Alliteration: ‘rolls over the roof’, ‘to think thoughts’, ‘better barefoot’, ‘back to bed’
• Sibilance: ‘stealthily in step’


• Lost in irrational and rational thoughts: ‘the moon rolls over and falls… the moon does neither’
• He says he cannot think yet he is writing the poem suggesting confusion: ‘nor to think thoughts’
• Against himself: ‘one’s mine the other’s an adversary’ – he says this about clouds in his mind
• Contrast between theme of darkness and light suggesting depression: ‘dark place… bright clouds’
• Agoraphobia suggesting he does not like constriction or too much freedom: ‘turn on a bare heel’
• Sense of elongated time: ‘a long moment stretches’ it is still night time, and he is still confused

Linking poems

Summer Farm: both personas are lost within themselves
The Cockroach: both have a sense of confusion

Allen Curnow

• Known for poems discussing world issues
• Frequently incorporates myth and symbolism in his poems
• Uses childhood experiences in his poems
• Almost always uses ideas of emotional stability and self-reflection
• Many of his poems also often based on isolation from society
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