Tuesday, July 27, 2010

For Fun - Who Doesn't Like Camels?

Poem About Camels M.K. Joseph

Said the preacher:

Consider the camel
It is easier for this crature
(Think of its hump! Its size!)
To creep through the eye of a needle
Than for a millionaire
To enter in the gates of paradise.

John Brown II
Had inherited a fortune
And a devout nature from his father
Who ground the faces of the poor all week
And on Sunday went to chapel
Hearing the preacher's comment on the camel
He got the right idea
Set up the Brownian Institute
And bred the animals in captivity

smaller and smaller
smaller and smaller . . .

When he was forty, the Institute
Had camels no longer than Alsatian dogs
At fifty, terrier-sized
At sixty, no bigger than hamsters
It became a race against time, the whole nation
Was agog, when on his deathbed
John Brwon watched
With a magnifying-glass gripped in a palsied claw
While a skilled operator gently seized
With tweezers a small creature
Like a hump-backed flea and carefully
Passed it through the eye of a large darning-needle

Hallelujah hallelujah
All the angels cry
John Brown II enters heaven
Through a needle's eye

Now once a camel heeded
The traditional lore
Which told him it was harder
For a camel to enter heaven
Than for a millionaire
To pass through the eye of a needle
So he began to breed millionaires

smaller and smaller
smaller and smaller . . .

My name is John Brown XXXV
Two millimetres high
And I'm sick of being stuck forever
In this goddam needle's eye

Hallelujah hallelujah
All the angels cry
Caravans of Camels enter heaven
Through a needle's eye
Laden with Sheffield needles
paper hats

. . .

If there's a serious point to this poem, it may be about the dangers of private interpretation of Scripture. This is a problem, believe me, of which your token Proddy is very much aware. If I solve it, I'll let you know...

And since I've begun with a poem that very well might appeal to children, I'll continue with a few of James K. Baxter's poems, written for our School Journal. The School Journal, supplied to every school in the country, provided employment for quite a few writers who otherwise would have found work at the Post Office or not at all.

The Tree House

John and Judith
And Billy and me,
We have our own house
In a willow tree.

It's built of boards
And battens and tin
From the packing case
That the tractor came in.

Up the slipper trunk
Of the tree we climb
With a rope to help us
One at a time;

But once we're up
And safe inside
Only the wind knows
Where we hide.

Down in the paddock
The brown horse neighs
And in stormy weather
The whole house sways

Like a ship at sea
While the branches roar
And birds fly past
At the open door.

The Shepherd

Where rivers tumble
In gorges deep,
High on the mountain
I muster sheep -

The scraggy, wild ewe
That has never been shorn
And the big, rough ram
With his curly horn.

The sun shines down'Like a burning-glass
As they nibble the fresh, green
Tussokc grass.

The tracks they make
With their nimble toes
No one but me
And my old dog knows.

With a long, low whistle
I send him out.
He cocks his ears
To hear me shout.

He is tired and dusty
Before the night -
His tongue hangs dripping
And his teeth gleam white.

When the cold stars glitter
And my door is shut,
We sit by the fire
In our mountain hut.


Five Poems

1. The New Bidge and the Old One

The new bridge is made of white concrete.
Its piles go down into th river bed
To stand against the boulders washed down by the winter floods.
The old bridge is made of grey timber.
It has been standing a long time
And the wheels of the logging trucks have worn the planks thin.

Side by side the two bridges stand.
The boy Tame sits on the old one in the sun.
He thinks, 'Down there the taniwha lives,
Where the water boils up under the willow roots.
He is strong and old,
He was here even before the pa began.
He'll push the bridge down if he doesn't like it.'

When he looks at the new bridge it seems to him
The piles have already begun to tilt a little.

2. Fishing

In the bare evening, the sandflies rise from the river.
If you have bare feet, they bite your ankles,
And when you kill them it leaves a small stain of blood.

Tame and Rua are fishing from the clay bank.
Tame's line has three hooks and a sinker,
But Rua's line is baited with muka
Where the eels can bite and snag their teeth.

Rua feels a sharp tug on the line.
He pulls it in quickly.
A grandfather eel wriggles on the bank.
He dumps the eel in the pit they dug
Before they started fishing.
The eel twists and turns like a big snake.

It is almost too dark to see your hand
When you hold it in front of your face.
The wind is getting colder.
Rua says, 'I'll take that one
Up to Rangi's place.
He might like to have an eel for dinner.'

3. Gathering Watercress

Whetu goes with a bucket to gather watercress
And her younger sister trudges beside her.
The creek spreads out in a bog at the bottom of the paddock,
And the white roots of the watercress
Go deep in the mud.

This time the cows have been in the creek before them,
Trampling the liaves,
Nibbling atthe flower heads,
Making great holes with their hooves,
Stirring up the mud.

Whetu says, 'Over by the bank
There are some leaves left.'
They wade across and begin to pick them.
Whetu's legs are longer than her sister's legs.
Once or twice she goes in up to her knees
But her sister gets her dress muddy.

That night Mrs Pohatu cooks the watercress
With meat and pork bones in the big pot.
The watercress is beautiful to eat.

4. The Hangi

Tame's father is making the hangi.
Rua's uncle is helping him.
First they dig a deep pit in the ground,
Then they pile up wood with round stones from the river,
Then they set it all on fire.

The fire burns for half and hour.
They rake away the ash and leave the stones,
Three pigs' heads,
Corn and kumara,
Half a sack of potatoes,
The two halves of a sheep,
And four pumpkins chopped up in pieces.

They cover it all with sheets, then with sacks,
Then they pour on water,
Then they cover the whole heap with earth
So that you can't see any steam at all.

Three hours later they uncover it again.
The kai is all cooked; it tastes better
Than anything you ever tasted.

Whetu's grandmother says, 'That was a good hangi.
They didn't let the smoke get into the meat.'

5. Outside the Meeting House

Whetu's grandmother and her friend Puhi
Sit outside the meeting house.
They wrap their shawls tight around their heads
And talk about old times.

'Kua ngenge oku waewae.'
'My legs are tired today.'
'He tino makariri te hau.'
'The wind is very cold.'

But they sit and talk together
Outside the door of the meeting house
On the concrete step
Just where the wind doesn't blow
And the sun shines warmly.

They talk about their sons and daughters,
Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren,
The tangis they have been to,
Friends who are still alive
And friends who have gone to God.

The sun is warm now,
It shines out between the clouds,
Their two hearts are full of peace.



Enbrethiliel said...


I love the camel poem! The first part reminds me of this passage from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited:

"The poor have always been the favourites of God and His saints, but I believe that it is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included. Wealth in pagan Rome was necessarily something cruel; it is not anymore." I said something about a camel and the eye of a needle and she rose happily to the point.

"But of course," she said, "it's very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalogue of unexpected things. It's not to be expected that an ox and an ass should worship at the crib. Animals are always doing the oddest things in the lives of the saints. It’s all part of the poetry, the Alice-in-Wonderland side, of religion."

But the second part is a bit more twisted, and yes, more of a cautionary tale against private interpretation of Scripture.

mrsdarwin said...

I don't know what my girls would make of the camel poem, but I liked it. I was coasting along smoothly on the whimsy of the first part, but the camel breeding the millionaires woke me up with a jolt. Joseph has a dark streak.

Either of those scenarios would make a great summer movie, I should point out.

Enbrethiliel said...


I just reread the first poem. The idea of a millionaire stuck in the eye of a needle forever is suddenly hilarious to me. It all works out according to Scripture in the end, doesn't it? ;-)

Emily J. said...

This is a bit off topic, but once a priest gave a homily about how there used to be a gate in the wall around Jerusalem called the Eye of the Needle and that's why Jesus used this analogy. Has anyone ever heard this? Kind of takes away the poetry of the metaphor.

Enbrethiliel said...


I've read about that! =) It was a narrow gate in which fully laden camels would often get stuck. Their human handlers would have to unload most of the stuff off their backs to get them through. It's certainly a good analogy, especially when we recall all the saints who were born rich and left everything behind for a more simple life.

Otepoti said...

Umm. I didn't want to be the party-pooper, because the "camel through a narrow gate" exegesis is very attractive, and resonates also with what the Lord says elsewhere about the strait gate and the temptations of riches, but this particular reading seems not to be founded in fact.

Wiki is good on "eye of the needle", and attributes the camel to a mistranslation of "gamla", "rope" (Syr), a mistake for "gamel", the Aramaic (and Hebrew) word for camel.

This site too seems quite good:


and the warning at the end is helpful.

It's a pity about the camel though.