The New Zealand poet Allen Curnow published “You Will Know When You Get There” in 1982, including it in his collection of the same name. In the poem, a person walks down a steep slope into the ocean as daylight fades. Using this descent as a metaphor for what it's like to approach death, the poem examines the inevitability of death and the fact that everyone, in the end, dies alone. At the same time, the poem hints that there may be a “right time” to die and that, in doing so, one becomes part of a larger, mysterious universe.
Nobody comes up ...
... last steep kilometre,
wet-metalled where ...
... thickening and thinning.
The light is ...
... gets there first.
Boys, two of ...
... back and away
behind this man ...
... point seven meters,
one hour’s light ...
... the surge-black fissure.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Acclaim for "You Will Know When You Get There" — Read more about the collection this poem appeared in and the awards the book won.
Biography of Allen Curnow — Read more about Allen Curnow’s life and his work as a major New Zealand poet in this biographical article from the New Zealand Government History website.
Picture of KareKare Beach — View a photograph of KareKare Beach in New Zealand, where many readers believe the poem is set.
The Borrowed Line — Read more about the line from Pound’s Cantos that the speaker alludes to in "You Will Know When You Get There."
1Nobody comes up from the sea as late as this
2in the day and the season, and nobody else goes down
3the last steep kilometre, wet-metalled where
4a shower passed shredding the light which keeps
5pouring out of its tank in the sky, through summits,
6trees, vapours thickening and thinning. Too
7credibly by half celestial, the dammed
8reservoir up there keeps emptying while the light lasts
9over the sea where ‘it gathers the gold against
10it’. The light is bits of crushed rock randomly
11glinting underfoot, wetted by the short
12shower, and down you go and so in its way does
13the sun which gets there first. Boys, two of them,
14turn campfirelit faces, a hesitancy to speak
15is a hesitancy of the earth rolling back and away
16behind this man going down to the sea with a bag
17to pick mussels, having an arrangement with the tide,
18the ocean to be shallowed three point seven meters,
19one hour’s light to be left, and there’s the excrescent
20moon sponging off the last of it. A door
21slams, a heavy wave, a door, the sea-floor shudders.
22Down you go alone, so late, into the surge-black fissure.