Denis Glover wrote some of our loveliest poems (The Magpies, Threnody and the sequences Sings Harry and Arawata Bill, for example) and became a legend in his lifetime for his talent, his irreverence, his hatred of humbug, his robust opinions and his remarkably diverse range of activities - as student and lecturer; as climber, rugby player, boxer and yachtsman; as journalist, typographer, publisher, satirist and critic; as war hero; and as raconteur, wit, lover and alcoholic. Inevitably, he has been characterised as the last Elizabethan.
With John Drew he established the Caxton Press in 1936 and as a publisher launched a number of literary careers with beautifully produced volumes. New Zealand’s literary development could scarcely have occurred without him.
Glover’s biographer, Gordon Ogilvie, noted that his life seemed to teem with paradoxes.
He was sensitively tough, a radical conformist, a warring pacifist, a free enterprise socialist, a boyish adult, a meticulously casual poet, a publicly private person, an endless debunker of rank and regulation who loved the Royal Navy, a classical scholar whose mode was vernacular… someone who relished life but wrote much of death and knowingly destroyed himself with drink.
But it will be his poetry, in all its distinctiveness of mood and formulation, that will be remembered long after his troubled life is forgotten. He is rated as our finest lyric poet, satirist and war poet and the author of many of our most arresting love lyrics. His poems of the mountains and the sea ring true for every New Zealander. On the page, says one critic, he adds up to more than the sum of his parts. His poetry… is greater than his poems.
The Christchurch Writer’s Walkway, E. Beardsley, Canterbury Branch, New Zealand Society of Authors, 1999.