He emigrated to Canada in 1967, teaching in Hope, British Columbia and Toronto but returned to Oxford in 1970 to work on a doctorate. He died shortly afterwards of a drug overdose.
His poems were published posthumously in the collections Dead Roots (1973) and Lonely Against the Light (1973). They deal extensively with his own personal alienation, being classified as coloured in apartheidSouth Africa, and his experiences of exile. In 2000, the University of South Africa Press in Pretoria published Anatomy of Dark: Collected Poems of Arthur Nortje. His works have been dealt with extensively in Ralph Pordzik's Die moderne englischsprachige Lyrik in Südafrika 1950-1980: Eine Darstellung aus funktions- und wirkungsgeschichtlicher Perspektive and in an article entitled: "No Longer Need I Shout Freedom in the House: Arthur Nortje, the English Poetical Tradition and the Breakdown of Communication in South African English Poetry in the 1960s", published in English Studies in Africa 41.2 (1998) 35-53.