Hilltop: A Literary Paper. Volume 1 Number 2
World Views of History
World Views of History
In the sixteenth-century England
They only built houses for fun,—
The barons strode off down the strand
And said," Build me another slum!
Where I may go on Sundays
And sniff the Sunday air,"—
They were grand in those days.
In nineteenth-century italia
You'd wander round and find
A headless Venus for a dollar,
A dozen Giottos for a pound,
And rest in a Florentine villa
With a view of the bay of Naples
For two bob a week (and extras).
But there in the seventeenth century
Under foolish austria's auspice
The only art to note was opera—
And the art of the conversation-piece—
With buffoonery spies abounding
And duels atween the Counts
And mud-in-your eye for the king.
In second century China
The arts of peace were regnant,—
Every man of any mana
Put his verses into paint
On plaques of watered silk
That have lasted down the ages,
With translation's help.
(The negroes, anyway, were dirty.
And now there art is drugged.)
Fifth century greece means Athens only,
Which means the meetings in the pub
And in the stone-paved market-place;
And a string of abstract words.
For Black Sparta we make a space.
* * *
Here in this balmy bay
The cars speed back and forth
And big red bumbling buses sway
And charge and swoop to prove their worth;
The city strolls and curses
And the bandsmen play like demons,
And distract me from my verses.
In pioneer America
Up in the province of Maine,
The really stocky cards built ships to
Sail down a hundred rivers, and then—
And the Indians played a lone hand,
Firing both sides' blockhouses,
And when cowboys came through their land
Ambushing the coaches and cows,
Hiding under waterfalls,
Calling each other 'Tortoise,'
"Elk,' 'Wolf,' or 'Owl.'
In fourteenth centuary Italy
There were three types of men :
The devils followed Machiavelli;
The rest were artists and their friends.
Was quite a decent sort—
Not really Diabelli.
But over the German border
A truly violent man
Queered all the schemes of order
fashioned by Erasmus' pen.
We know but half his moniker,—
Martin Something Luther;
A good hand with a hammer.
Down in the creaky South,
Where Livingstone met Stanley
By swamps and by the lion's mouth,
The negroes all were happy, mainly,—
Good but still uneducated,
Savage still but lovable,
Beating drums and nearly naked.
In the farthest North
Where Nansen sailed his schooners,
Only brave men there went forth
And the natives committed social boomers,—
Living in strange ways,
Eating all the blubber
That others wish to use.
The wolf with his bushy tail,
The lamb with his warm blood,
Still live togather to-day as they used
When the first roving crocodile lay in the mud,—
Live on Kelburn hill,
Behind those red brick walls,—
The man who must live, and the fool.
And down in the Bay of Biscay
Where dolphins and cute flying-fish
Play by the ships, and jokes risque
Are cracked on promenade-decks, a wish
Was made by my sea-sick friend
To be home again once more,
Watch the small river bend.
* * *
Up in the way of Plenty
Where Edwards' motors run,
Every man at the edge of twenty
Sells his boat and buys a farm,
Comes into town on Fridays,
Has a drink with the boys,
takes his wife to the pictures.
During th Maori wars
Two officers went out
One evening, to water their horses,
Without their guns. And that
Was the end of them! eaten
Too, I guess; the golf-course
last month yeilded a skeleton!
Is the place for working miracles.
They are worked up there like any old chore,
With aid in this case from the Welsh myth-cycles.
Then you drown yourself in the flood
And depart, with Arthurian soul
At peace in the magic mud.
Dunedin's a place that's made
No progress for thirty years.
The trams look like ones that Emmet designed
When he came out here to try the beer
In nineteen hundred fourteen.
He found it terrible too,
But his trams are all still working.
They go leaping down the streets
Like bell-ridden kangaroos
And the one that goes to Tahuna leaps
Clear off the road before your eyes
And goes sailing down the footpath!
Sailing off in a cloud!
Hang on for all you're worth!
Down in Queen Charlotte Sound
At the turn of the year you find
Genuine old French brandy around
At sevenpence a nip! Fishing blind,
I caught a giant cod
On the eve of 'forty-nine—
The biggest ever made!
They have wetas up the hill,
Wild cherries on the shore,—
You"ll never find such a place until
The gods come down from Glaston Tor,
Perhaps that's happening now?
Then mark it well,you scribes:
Here's history for you!
* * *
In old-time Latin America
Be-cymballed and singing whores
That were always young and always able to
Wear more clothes in the hotter hours
Than I could wear in an Arctic
Winter, loved and abounded,
And fed the kings on rat-nip.
But, "Beware of Conquistadores
Of true Iberian stock!"
Was that they really sang on the floors
Of the dancing-rooms back of the wine-shops,
And when they danced in the streets
They all whanged tembourines,
Regardless of off-beats.
There is no time, in switzerland.
For centuries now they have worn
Schoolboy- socks embroidered by hand
Into braided tops, and their hair long,
And loose white blouses
And dark short shorts,
And the fierce ones have moustaches,
On the Swiss borders
We all speak five tongues—
French, Italian, German, and Argot,
And English. The Swiss are the only one
who seem, if they ar able,
To have no languages at all:
History shan't repeat Babel!
In Russia in the winter
They drive about in zombies.
These are constructed so that, when the
Streets are filled with snow, families
Can travel about as they please.
They go even the vaster distances
Without so much as a sneeze!
Tenth century Peru
Had all the gold in the world,
Far more gold than I or you
Ever could count or, if we could,
Then I guess even more than that.
And no-one knew how to steal it!
Strange gods had to fix that!
In the first year of life
Someone pulled out a pen
And said, on a parchment prepared by his wife
From a mule-skin, "Yesterday, life began!"
I think that was terribly clever.
He was the first historian.
May he live for ever and ever!
* * *
But here, my sadness begins;
'Ever and ever,' is over.
An immortal, it's true, though he dies, is not killed;
But die he does, just as much as live ever.
And that prehistoric historian
Is staging a death right now.
To you, to me, it's plain.
On Sussex Downs one year
A man whose name I've lost
Was thwarted by an ancient hare
Of wise and female ways. She hatched
And loved her diplodocus
And sang him ancient songs,
And other hocus-pocus.
This was not long ago—
About nineteen twenty-three.
Kipling tells of a similar show
In 'Puck of Pook's Hill,' and we
Could chronicle, if you wished,
Many, many others.
Another time perhaps.
I wish that I could tell you
In good, historical verse
Of the private habits of the warlock
And of the sinking of the 'Erse'—
She fought a noble fight
And it was not so long ago,
But we leave her to her plight
For the vision has surely faded
Now, and the sun has gone down.
The children for whom I think we waited
Have gone on home and we wait alone,
Alone on the asphalt walk
With the trees growing by on the grass.
They have gone on another path.
Even the women are fading!
Where is the Bill of Rights
Won so hard in 'twenty-seven?
Have ladies no place in history's sights?
Why yes, of course they have!
There's Joan of Arc, for a kick-off;
And there's the gorgeous slave
Who bounced to the moon on her bustle
Starting from Texas state.
She is the reason behind the puzzle
Of why coyotes cry at night, for her mate—
One Pecos Bill, a cowboy,
Now desolate and forlorn—
Was reared by them in joy.
Reared in the fashion of Castor
And good old Polydeuces.
A hundred historical women more
Could fill these sheets with tales, some juicy,
Some more sober and solid.
Oh there are innumerable tales,
The racy and the squalid,
The beautiful and the poor,
Heartfelt, the mean and callous,
Moving and the still, the dour,
The blighted, even the uproarious.
No need to tell them well,—
Tales and tales and tales,
But not for us to tell.
* * *
When some day you compose your history,
Your book of truest dye,
Here's the advice this document gives you—
An old advice, a professional cry:
"Listen to every voice—
And voices are everywhere;
Give credence, for better or worse."
'Listen to every voice.
Give credence.' The. Holy Grail
Was found nineteen thirty-eight, March first,
In Fardles, an English village. The world
Was in the balance that week; Prester John was there;
And an unpronounceable Greek.
Two people died of ecstasy;
One by more mortal hand—
That of a depraved publisher; a fourth was
Left on the point of death; the redeemed
Was a child of four years precise
There in Castra Parvalorum.
Give credence to every voice.
In the Californian forests
A strong man stands.
He lifts the fallen thrush, he lifts
The fishes from the drying pool. And
He carries a knobbly stick;
Sends healing eidola out
To the South African sick.
Tell me if pretty Antony
Knew that women won't fight
When once they've heard the distant timpani
Or doom and sniffed the sniff of fate?
She left him to his plight;
With fifty ships she vanished
In the bloodiest part of the fight.
'Voices are everywhere:
Listen for better or worse.'
They are in the willow-bole and they
Are in the stagnant lake. A voice
Speaks in each worldly thing—
Living, lifeless, and dead.
And it speaks for our remembering.
What says the Loch Ness monster?
And what, Pelorus Jack?
Listen carefully for their answer!
Write it, dated, at the back
Among the appendices!
Refer to it in footnotes!
List in the indices!
But I doubt if you'll hear what he says
The magic seems gone from the day
And night-time, spiritual night-time covers
The land, and the listeners have all gone away,
Gone to a land they know;
And in some sense we live with them there,—
But asleep, and they, in full woe.
The time of stories seems over;
The children have climbed to bed.
The children have climbed where their dreams gather—
They tell their stories themselves instead.
The smiling ones have refused
And laughter has turned away;
In the upper air with the gods, till the day,
Moon roams with her hair unloosed.