Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Poem in the Matukituki Valley

This is a link to another early poem of Baxter's. This one is so popular, that our national museum has put it up as part of its archive. There's a nice photo there, as well.

I think this was written prior to Baxter's conversion, but it's pretty obvious that he's feeling his way towards the Church.

I've often walked through this valley, which has steep bush-covered sides. It turns into mountain-climbing territory fairly quickly.

I don't expect I'll walk there again: I'm no longer nimble enough. So by reading this poem I relive it.

And now here's another poem by M.K. Joseph:

Distilled Water

From Blenheim's clocktower a cheerful bell bangs out
The hour, and time hangs humming on the wind.
Time and the honoured dead. What else? The odd
Remote and shabby peace of a provincial town.
Blenkinsopp's gun? the Wairau massacre?
Squabbles in a remote part of empire.
Some history. Some history, but not much.

Consider now the nature of distilled
Water which has boiled and left behind
In the retort rewarding sediment
Of salts and toxins. Chemically pure, of course
(No foreign bodies here) but to the taste
Tasteless and flat. Let it spill on the ground,
Leach out its salts, accumulate its algae,
Be living: the savour's in impurity.
Is that what we are? soimething that boiled away
In the steaming flask of nineteenth century Europe?
Innocuous until now, or just beginning
To make its own impression on the tongue.

And through the Tory Channel naked hills
Gully and slip pass by, monotonously dramatic
Like bad blank verse, till one cries out for
Enjambement, equivalence, modulation,
The studied accent of the human voice,
Of the passage opening through the windy headlands
Where the snowed Kaikouras hang in the air like mirage
And the nation of gulls assembles on the waters
Of the salt sea that walks about the world.

. . .

What interests me about this poem is that no-one would write it today. We simply don't have that sort of crisis of identity hanging around us, but, my word, we certainly did, back when I was a child in the 60's and 70's. We were having great difficulty realigning ourselves away from British apron-strings.

Perhaps we're not so assured of a national identity that we take it for granted and no longer think about it. There might be a "who are we?" poem or two still in the pipeline of some poet. But we certainly won't be agonizing as to how British we should try to be...

The Wairau massacre - you might be able to wiki it, but if it's not there, the interesting thing about it, is that it is not (as you might think) British soldiers/settlers slaughtering poor helpless Maoris. No, it was a wildly skillful Maori chief and warrior called Te Rauparaha, who made mincemeat of some hapless scratch militia of pakehas (British settlers). I think about fourteen people were killed.

OK, one last poem before I go and do the dishes. Also by M.K. Joseph:

For My Children

To you who have come
In this tired time
Ruled not by the stars
But by two wars

What can we give
Excepting love
That having no end
Pays no dividend?

And what bequeath
But island earth
From Eden yet
Whole seas apart?

But still the spring
Renews its song
Immortal life
Through bud and leaf

And so we pray
No cliff too high
No gulf too deep
For hand and hope.

. . .

Arohanui to you all,


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