Formative Years

London & Oxford

London & Oxford Cont'd


Before the War

New Zealanders

The War Years

The War Years Cont'd

Heading Home


The Wordsworths & Others

Towards an Autobiography

Autobiographies & Verse


James & Others

Modern Years

The Final Years




Charles Brasch 'had a double significance for New Zealand writing. He was a fine and sensitive poet, and by founding and editing for twenty years the literary periodical Landfall, he unquestionably did more than any other individual to consolidate the arts in New Zealand after the Second World War.' So wrote his old school friend James Bertram. To achieve these 'double-gold' distinctions, Brasch read. Indeed, reading was vital to his whole being. His library of 7,500 books is housed in Special Collections and his extensive archive (28 linear metres) is housed at the Hocken Library. Here he is in a jovial mood doing what he liked best. 

Charles Brasch, c.1935. Brasch Papers MS 996-12/64. Hocken Library

Charles Brasch was about nine and staying at Henley-on-Taieri when he wrote his first poems on the subject of briar roses. As a self-confessed 'wooly-minded scribbler' of 'worthless Georgian-romantic verse', Brasch continued writing. While at Oxford in 1929, he offered a collection of poems to Basil Blackwell for publication, which was tactfully rejected. In 1939, Caxton Press published The Land and the People and Other Poems, his first volume of verse in an edition of 100 copies. 'Waianakarua' was dedicated to Winsome Milner, the daughter of Frank Milner, Rector at Brasch's school at Waitaki Boys' High School.

Charles Brasch, The Land and the People, and Other Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1939. Brasch PR9640.B67 L3

Helene Mary Fels belonged to the Hallensteins, a family which established itself as goldfield merchants in Otago in the 1860s and who later began a nationwide chain of clothing stores. Born in 1882, she died at the age of 32, when Brasch was four. This event ended his 'childhood proper.' Brasch was the family archivist, and the books his mother won as prizes for diligence and good conduct were kept by him and no doubt read. This crepe-paper edition of Lafcadio Hearn's The Boy who drew Cats [1898] contains her ownership inscription.

Helene and Charles Brasch. c.1911. Brasch Papers MS 996-12/59. Hocken Library;

Lafcadio Hearn, The Boy Who Drew Cats. Tokyo: T. Hasegawa, [1898]. Brasch PS1917.B69

Before he left England in 1945, Brasch wrote the script for a mime play, The Quest, which was published by The Compass Press, a small group headed by the English painter and designer John Crockett. The plot, which parallels Brasch's general position at the time, is about an individual seeking his place in the world. It was first performed in England on 13 April 1946. Maria Dronke, an Austrian actress living in Wellington, Ursula Bethell, and actor Sam Williams all expressed interest in a New Zealand performance, but it never eventuated.  

Charles Brasch, The Quest: Words for a Mime Play. London: Compass Players, 1946. Brasch PR9640.B67 Q4

On 3 February 1948, Brasch received the galley proofs of Disputed Ground (1948), his second poetry book. While reading through the proofs, he was buoyed up by Denis Glover's insistence to print the book quickly. Brasch was confident about the poems: 'They are the best I had yet written.' He was also more content about his place in the world: 'I no longer have any wish to get my poems published in England, & the only audience I look for now is a N.Z. one.' Here is his well-known poem 'The Islands' in its original version.

Charles Brasch, Disputed Ground: Poems, 1939-45. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1948. Brasch PR9640.B67 D5

There was a great deal of trust and understanding between Brasch and Willi Fels, his grandfather. Fels, an inveterate traveller, is seen here at Drottningholm Castle Terrace, Stockholm in 1935. His house, 'Manono', now 84 London Street, was Brasch's home away from home. This Stuttgart edition of Franz Hoffmann's Willy belonged to Fels and has his name embossed on the cover. Perhaps Brasch, with his knowledge of German, read this tale about the hero and his escapades in Jamaica, featuring pirates, slavery, and a ferocious alligator.

Willi Fels in Stockholm, 1935. c/n E6132/3. Hocken Library;

Franz Hoffmann, Willy: Eine Erzahlung fur meine Jungen Freunde. Stuttgart: Schmidt und Spring, 1864. Brasch PZ38.HP47

The original journals of Charles Brasch are housed at the Hocken Library. In his tight, legible hand, there are entries about day-to-day activities and his private thoughts on people, places, and events that cover the years 1939 to 1973. Given that he knew one day they would be read by others, he is especially honest about his own relationships, his own insecurities, and his legacy, especially as a poet. On 31 July 1955, and obviously without a good book to read, the entry reads: 'I am in a state of mind I expected never to suffer: I am almost bored.'

Charles Brasch, Journal. July 1954- March 1956. Brasch Papers MS-996-9/23. Hocken Library

Hyam Brasch (later Henry Brash) was a practicing barrister, a keen sportsman (golf and bridge figured large), and one who appreciated the importance of a good education. On the death of his wife Helene, Hyam continued educating Charles and his sister Lesley as best he could. Although opposites by nature, there were some good times, and Charles writes fondly of his father reading to him Norse and Greek legends, an Arthur Rackham edition of Brer Rabbit, and poems by Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. When his sister Lesley (b. 1911) died in 1939, Brasch incorporated many of her books into his library, one of which was Joseph Conrad's The Arrow of Gold.

Charles, Hyam [Henry], and Lesley Brasch. c.1920. Brasch Papers MS 996-12/58. Hocken Library;

Robert Browning, Selected Poems. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1938. Brasch PR4202 1938;

Joseph Conrad, The Arrow of Gold. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1919. Brasch PR6005.O4 A8 1919;

A selection of poetry, prose and translated works by Charles Brasch, including Poems by Esenin (1970),

"Charles Brasch, Charles Brasch in Egypt. Wellington, N.Z.: Steele Roberts, 2007. PR9640.B67 Z5 A33 2007"

Charles Brasch and C.R. Nicolson's Hallensteins: The First Century, 1873-1973 (1973);

Hilde Zissermann's Gedichte aus Neuseeland, translated by Brasch (1970), and his Collected Poems (1984).