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Collected Poems

Poetry Harbinger

page 131

Poetry Harbinger

page 133

Not Understood *

(For the Secret Brotherhood, with a bouquet of ragwort and bracken)

Not understood. We move along asunder,
The mists get thicker as our syntax goes,
And in the fog we marvel and we wonder
That any line we write, in verse or prose,
      Is understood.

Not understood. We bury all our meanings,
And dig them deeper as the years go by,
Indulging thus our obscurantist leanings;
And it will be no wonder if we die
      Not understood.

Not understood. Despondency and madness
Attend us as communications fail;
We poets in our youth begin in gladness,
But end in Paul's or Whitcombe's Christmas sale,
      Not understood.

Not understood. Our tendency is laudable,
Uttering, for elevation of our thought,
In thick sonorous voices, quite inaudible
To the vast multitude; our books unbought,
      Not understood.

Not understood. The reading mob's reaction
To what it does not comprehend is slow,
And gives small hope. But with self-satisfaction
We judge our verses, though they often go
      Not understood.

page 134

Not understood. Poor souls with stunted vision
Oft measure giants by their narrow gauge;
The poisoned shafts of falsehood and derision
Are oft impelled 'gainst us who mould the age,
      Not understood.

Not understood! How many hearts are aching
For poems that are plain, and language terse!
The poetry you write is epoch-making,
Yet, wanting the accomplishment of verse,
      Not understood.

Oh, God! that bards could be a little clearer,
Or write less often when they've nowt to say;
Oh, God! that bards would live a little nearer
To us, and in the light of common day,
      Not under Milk Wood.

Glum Summer

(Dedicated to Frank Sargeson)

Ron, I'd say.
What is it, Eth? he'd say.
And then I'd say, Ron.
And instead of answering he'd just have a sort of faint grin on
his face.
Ron, I'd say.
But I never could get further than just saying Ron.
I wanted so say something, but I didn't know what it was, and
I couldn't say it.
Ron, I'd say.
And he'd sort of grin. And sometimes I'd take his hand and hold
it tight, and he'd let it stay in my hand, and there'd be the faint
grin on his face.
Ron, I'd say.
I'm all right, Eth, he'd say. I like it, Eth.

page 135

Elegy at Month's End

(For James K. Baxter)

Held at bay by the hailstorm, hound of Heaven,
On this bitter day in the murk of the small back bar,
The sump of Hell,
My spirit yearns for the realm where the Blessed are,
Remembering now in the depths of my pocket's eclipse
My hey-day, pay-day joy, remembering the seven
Angelic shapes, red-banded, foam at their lips,
And the twelve on the shell.

Came one who knocked at the door: the Beast it was;
His eyes were slag-pits brimmed with Time's grey ashes,
A cosmic rubble;
Then two came clothed in dun, their mouths thin gashes
On the breast of love, their dewlaps' wrinkled skin
Like the flesh of old bulls put to grass because
They are done. And I said to myself, The duns are in
And I am in trouble.

Then I looked in the small black book where the list of names
And the numbers are, of those who sometimes may be
Good for a loan.
But all were featherless, bare as the bum of a baby,
I had plucked them one by one in the times of torment,
The blonde, the black, the bald, old friends, old flames—
All, all had taught me the sorrow a bolted door meant,
Hung up on the 'phone.

So here I make do with dog's-nose consolation,
Commune with my Muse, that brass-bound, big-mouthed wench
Who never is short
Of a rhyme, or a canto. Here on this penitent bench
I sit in the reek of Hell, with the lost all about me,
Praying to God that he grant me a whiff of damnation,
Praying that Peter the Barman at last will shout me
An invalid port.

page 136

Kowhai Poem

(Dedicated to Mr Fairburn, the Plain Man's Poet)

A grey wind rustles the greenery,
my soul is sad in the bush,
the bloom of the kowhai has fallen, girls,
did somebody give it a push?

I've written a thousand verses
with kowhai gold as my theme,
but now once more in the winter's blast
I've a non-convertible dream.

I am a kowhai lover,
Fort Knox has nothing on me,
but there's nothing to do in the winter time
but hide in a hole in a tree.

With a bag-full of broken biscuits
and my leaky fountain pen
I'll hide in a hole in the puriri tree
till spring comes round again.

On a Bacchic Poet

He never discovered the secret of wine.
His potion was water. He wasn't a wowser,
but somehow the only thing he could divine
was water. A really remarkable dowser.

Though his pencil was sadly deficient in lead,
when he found the Muse sleeping he'd try to arouse her.
And somehow whenever he got into bed
he always had both of his legs in one trouser.

He made up a thousand and forty-two ballads
to celebrate women and wine—a carouser
on paper unparagoned. Eater of salads
and bibber of water—but no, not a wowser.

page 137

Jack and Jill

(For Allen Curnow)

Jill is my belle, my ding-dong girl, my dove,
My piece of Heaven, our cot the place of revel,
Her reign (my queen) the climate of my love,
Her love, satrap to Jock my other devil.

Waking to hills we wonder, wryly ponder
The ups and downs. Can Jill, the Dawn's pale daughter,
Breathtaking bear love's bucket? Goose or gander,
No sorcery will hoist and fetch our water.

In Paradise we played with snake and ladder.
It was the Adder, the mathematic god
Betrayed my fate, high-borne on hope's full bladder;
My bell had rung, my foot slipped where I trod.

Wounded by Heaven, old Adam, heartless cripple
Bed-bound by sloth, dear backwash of your beauty,
Begs you now bring the water for his tipple—
My gin (my lovely gin), your bounden duty.

The Enchanted Garden

This is the garden. Here, my son,
where bats at nightfall flit,
their leaves unfolding one by one
the books you read were writ.

This is the garden of the mind,
a lovesome thing, God wot,
with fleurs du mat incarnadined
in many an earthy plot.

Here metaphor and tense, mixed herbs,
grow wild. Through moon-mad hours
loose substantives, irregular verbs
make love in secret bowers.

page 138

The double entendre is often found,
its fragrance fresh, or rank;
periphrasis grows here, and round
ellipses, bank on bank.

Tautologies are thick beyond
the winding terrace path,
and in the stagnant lyly-pond
plump Euphues takes his bath.

Like boats to their reflections moored
narcissi gaze, and yearn,
and beds of pansies, well-manured,
flourish at every turn.

In winter dusk two marble fauns,
their usage long decayed,
frolic with migrant leprechauns
on syntax crazy-laid.

Hyperbole is here in flower,
rampant beside the wall;
its fruits, one sweet to fifty sour,
upon the flat earth fall.

The ironic ha-ha sets a bound
ignored by those who climb
into the orchard, where are found
strange fruits, all glittering rime.

Here on the lawn where shadows creep
beneath the waning moon,
the worm casts up his dungy heap,
the critic chirps his tune.
On laurel-leaf and budding rose
the caterpillar climbs
and once a week in nibbling prose
commits his venal crimes.

Beneath the broken trellis-work
where catachresis trails
the academic blackbirds lurk
to pick up slugs and snails.

page 139

And over there, where nightshade grows,
beyond that earthy mound,
a well is to be found, which goes
deep, deep into the ground.

Its denizens are frogs and newts
and things with twisted tails
that men with snarls and owl-like hoots
dredge up in wooden pails.

Grande Chatelaine

Her hair-clips were made out of fish-bones,
her pendants of mother-of-pearl,
her ear-rings were aldermen's wish-bones—
I wish you could see the old girl.

Her tiara showed big stones and small stones,
donated by tigers and fleas,
but the bracelet made out of her gallstones
was the item most likely to please.

Deep South

Illicit stills in the pathless hills,
old legends, mostly figment,
a stagnant pond and snows beyond
of linseed oil and pigment;

a bottomless lake, a loud wind-break,
storms raging round the summit,
a tailored cassock woven of tussock,
a wiggle of shepherd's grummit;

a rowan branch and an avalanche,
with a Calvinistic foreground,
lake-water lapping and rabbiters trapping,
and a lilac park as whoreground;

page 140

a torrent of verse and an empty purse,
a loan and a hobnailed liver,
some daffadowndillies, a bout of the willies,
and sardine tins in the river;

cathedral chimes and dissonant rhymes,
a prose-style like a corset,
some hollyhock seeds and a heart that bleeds
for a cottage down in Dorset;

a drunken swagger, a crutcher-and-dagger,
the rolling plains where the wheat waves;
romantic habits of men and rabbits,
and Harris tweeds in the heat-waves.

Now boil the lot in an old iron pot
dug up in Gabriel's Gully,
and say your grace with an Anglican face
and a voice like Holy Wullie.

To a Fiend in the Wilderness

Who'd have guessed it from his lip
Or his brow's unaccustomed bearing,
On the night he thus took ship…?
I left his arm that night myself
For what's-his-name's, the new prose-poet
That wrote the book there, on the shelf
He was prouder than the Devil:
How he must have cursed our revel!

—Browning, Waring.

I say, what is the matter with you, you old devil?
I haven't heard a word from you since you left
for Van Dieman's Land (where you ought to feel
preety much at home, eh? what?). They tell me
it's quite a wilderness, Jack just as good as his master,
impossible to get servants and all the politicians damned Socialists

page 141

wrecking the country. The colonies must be the very devil
(you ought to know about that!) By Jove,
I think you might be wise to pack up, dear boy,
and come Home. When Kelly left he sold me his pub,
my son has gone to sea, I've one or two fish biting
on another little proposition that might land some ripe fruit
right in my lap. I say, for God's sake chuck it,
I can promise you plenty of pretty decent week-ends
with a bit of grog and anything else you might happen to have an eye for.

I did think of getting some fellow to knock all this
into verse for me but it's hard to get labour in these times
and when you get 'em they won't do an honest day's work
so I'm afraid it'll just have to go as it is.
But I say, Dommers, I'm getting pretty browned off,
do come back some time before I'm dead
and all your teeth have fallen out, what?

2000 A.D.

The normal population
Has been evacuated from the South Island, which has been given over to the tourist industry for purposes of hunting, shooting, boozing, mountaineering, fishing and fornication.

Rugby football having been discarded as much too tame,
Fighting with spring-knives has become the national game,
Carried on by a small class of specially-bred gladiators,
The rest of the public being bubble-gum-blowing spectators.

Votes for cows was carried some years ago by a show of feet;
Totalitarian democracy is now complete,
And the present Prime Minister, known to everybody as Jackie,
Is a ten-year-old steer from Taranaki.

His authority, and that of Bullamy's, is only nominal, all power being vested (along with the right of self-perpetuation)
In General Oecumenical Development (Inc.), a world with headquarters in Monte Carlo and branches throughout the Creation.

A complete monopoly of Radio, Television, News and Information page 142Services, Education and Entertainment, including six selected sub-varieties of religious practice
Is operated on behalf of G.O.D. (Inc.) by the New Zealand Broad-serving Cactus,
Which is situated on the Desert Road, plumb in the middle
Of the North Island, where the major administrative fiddle
Of the nation is conducted
In an ant-hill suitably constructed.

Poets and artists are heavily subsidised by the State, on strict condition that their work shall be totally incomprehensible,
Because that which is incomprehensible cannot possibly be subversive, a working assumption that is eminently sensible.
The defence of the country is in the hands of G.O.D. (Inc.) and (for decorative effect) a standing army of 100,000 marching girls ('Don't shoot until you see the whites
Of their eyes,' counsels the Ministry of Tourism), along with (not to be out-done) 50,000 marching bodgies in gents' Hawaiian floral shirtings and shocking-pink tights.

Now therefore, although everything worth buying has become progressively scarcer and dearer,
Lift up your voices in joyous celebration of the Second Millennium of the Christian Era.

Conversation Piece

Why have you given up drinking? Are you unaware
that non-drinking is a corrosive
and habit-forming habit
unbecoming to a gentleman
and likely to turn him into a rabbit?

I live in the desert. I drank much
to dissolve the sand in my stomach.
I found that sand was insoluble in alcohol.
I took to drinking vinegar, rainwater, buttermilk, and various coloured inks.
My digestion still suffered.
I gave up drinking and took to Existentialism.

Now I am the desert, the sand, and the Sphinx,
and if there is any more drinking to be done, the drinks
are on the Sphinx.

page 143

To an American Tourist at Whakarewarewa

You've crossed the (hush!) Pacific, deep and wide,
to see our prancing natives lose their pride.
Interesting to compare our situations—
you folk have done the same (with reservations).

You'll fill your photo album—hiya, Bud!—
with snaps of snotty noses, bubbling mud.
We hope with all our hearts that you will relish
the scenery, which, like the food, is hellish.

You've come to tickle trout, or gape at geysers?
Well, anyway, you people are no misers;
and we, like Maori boys just out of school,
dive for your dollars in the bankers' pool.

page 144

As Man to Man

Since we live, dearest boy, in this terrible age of Anxiety,
what can we do for relief, what drug can we find?
It's a little too late for Karl Marx. A réchauffé piety
might fill the bill. Put Sigmund right out of your mind.
It was such a shock to discover that old Uncle Joe
had hairs on his body and stank so of stale cabbage soup;
we wouldn't go back to that now, dear boy—a bad show;
it would look altogether too much like looping the loop.

Frank Buckman is out, I'm afraid—a nice enough fellow,
but look at that perfectly dreadful cosmopolite circus
he carts around with him. We need something just a bit mellow—
psychological nudists and chatter of morals might irk us.

On the whole I suggest something cosy and utterly private—
just you and I meeting at breakfast and drinking our coffee,
agreed on whatever opinions we jointly arrive at,
and living in harmony, sharing our books and our toffee.

Poem Addressed to Mr Robert Lowry on the Occasion of the Birth of his Fourth Daughter

How lucky we are, Mr Lowry,
to live in the land of the kauri.
Just think what, between us,
our commerce with Venus
would have cost in the days of the dowry.

The Secret Maiden

I am a lovely maiden,
I live in a lonely house,
there is no man since time began
has bedded me down as spouse.

page 145

I am a comely maiden,
I have no man to loathe,
no mother-in-law to waggle her jaw,
no kids to feed and clothe.

I am a beautiful maiden,
I live in an empty house,
the nuts I eat are small but sweet,
for company I've a mouse.

I am a delicate maiden,
I have no bath nor bed,
the cold is raw in my heap of straw
and the wind blows through my head.

I am a nut-brown maiden,
my nuts I keep in jars,
and all I've got is you know what
and a window full of stars.

To a Literary Joker, on Another

You have three kids, I have four kids.
Jones, I hear, is growing orchids.
Thus the floral queen is regnant,
Though his muse is never pregnant.

Poem on the Advantages of Living at the Remuera End of the North Shore


See Devonport and Fry

There are ferries at the bottom of our garden,
the Takapuna people envy us:
we never have to fight
page 146 the ladies for the right
to sit upon a seat aboard the bus.

If your arteries have not begun to harden
we have a hill to climb, and boats to sail,
a golf-course for the dubs,
a pair of lovely pubs,
a wharf where you can fish for yellowtail.

Oh, I nearly overlooked — I beg your pardon —
our Naval Base that's operated by
the Kiwi and the Pom,
a target for the Bomb —
now what could be a nicer way to die?

The Hon. Mrs Tweedscantie

Her bridge? Gad, sir, rotten.
Her golf? Best forgotten.
Her fishing? Well, frantic.
Her hunting? An antic.
Her shooting? Oh, nervy.
Her archery? Scurvy.
Her billiards? Just pokey
But crikey, her croquet!


I knew the Lady of the Lake.
I courted her. A great mistake.
The Lady told me what to do.
I did it. Now I'm feeling blue.

I knew the Lady of the Lake.
She counselled me what steps to take.
I went and took them, just for fun.
Now tell me, what would you have done?

page 147


We read of him, he's at the kirk;
his pictures show him on the links:
God only knows what bogeys lurk
within, and when he eats, or thinks.

A hundred million souls revere
the proto-psyche of their kind,
who links in one false hope, one fear,
their disunited states of mind.

The Little Fishes

The little fishes in the sea
are guilty of idolatry:
they think the great big ships are gods,
the ferry-boats Olympic bods.

Poeta Nascitur Non Fit

You don't need a Telescope to Tell When a Poet is a Misfit

He took to bird-watching
and gave up word-botching.

But the geese that he cons
through his glass are still swans.

page 148

God Bless the Electric Shaver, Friend of Man

You do it all by feel,
a palsied hand can guide it,
the party man's New Deal,
— strayed reveller, have you tried it?

Hung over, you evade
the open cut-throat terror,
the corn-torn nettle-blade,
— the horror in the mirror.

Philosophy For Beginners

Expect each creature
to behave according to its nature.

Don't ask an old moke
to climb an oak
or to swim the Hellespont breaststroke.

The Bars and Gripes

Oh, come to the Land of the Free!
You'll find that you're free to agree
with whatever conforms to the ethical norms
of descendants of dumpers of tea.

Political Jotting

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
when first we practise to deceive!

And when the practice is perfected
we're just the boys to get elected.

page 149


We'd cheer to see the lady cast
her hose into the tub, by gosh,
were we but sure the dye was fast
and wouldn't run through all the wash.


This efflorescence of pink and white!
This gongorism, out-blossoming Spain's!
Poets of the world, unite —
you have nothing to lose but your daisy chains!

page 150


The Sea


Now for many days I have not smelt the sea
passing in spring through a green land
walking in a dry land
in a soft place where is no death.
Far, far the strange and gleaming ocean
billowing on the rocks in blinding sunlight
far is the sea foam-bosomed titanic
and the rocks and the foam and the weeds the water sucks,
but still in this dry land I see
faint foaming seas and bloom upon the wave
in a windy twilight, still I hear its noise
as if my heart were a shell and I a child
listening, shell to ear.

Could I but wall myself in this dry world
of rolling plain low hills and trees and hedgerows,
walk by slow waters moving through the land
fall river-dreaming and forget the sea,
could I but close up my mind as an old maid locks her door
against the ravisher, the dreaded and desired,
could I but cultivate my garden
could I but move in a compact circle
as a wheel upon its pivot

but thought is a slow river that flows round
the mountain of the will and finds the sea.


I have ridden the surf with foam across my face
I have rolled like a warrior of old
down the sea-wind in my chariot of water.

I have lain in the sea at twilight
as in a bed heaped up with flowers
clothed in my robe of water like a king.

Lying on my belly on an old rotten wharf
I have watched the rippling green through a chink in the boards
and the world has slipped away like sand through the fingers.

page 151

And I have stood on a tall cliff and looked down
on the vast waters washing the edge of the world
and have not been afraid.

But all this was in youth when I had not known
distrust of solid rock
distrust of death by water and the resurrection
limbo of doubt interregnum of darkness.

If any man tell you he has conquered, call him a liar.


Lying in the sun beside the sea
the sky the huge hard bulging bum
of a metal kettledrum, the sea
hot parchment tightly stretched for the sticks
for the music of the sticks that is withheld
pending a revelation that lies
womb-bound in heavy silence

lying in the sun with my belly on the hot rock
the rock a cross where hangs a body limp
in agony immune from life and death
in deep damnation drinking in the sun
sucking the strength and vigour from the sun
the fire of life that breeds revolt anew
the gladiator fed with milk and truffles
wine and good meat to stiffen bone and sinew
prolonging the bloody strife

I am neither sea nor rock but living flesh
I can swim but not as a fish swims
I have fear and the knowledge of opposites.
And so, to seize
that fiery ardour of the sun,
contain it in the mind, and lend it to the will,
subdue the waves with thought?
The revelation hangs in silence.

Or to plunge in and let the limbs
move gently, held in balance of two forces,
to have firm faith the fixed assurance
that through the broken rhythm of the waves
there flows the deeper rhythm of the Wave
page 152 a strong unchanging everlasting thing
whose pattern lies in heaven?
After the heat of life the calm of death,
after the journey the lover's arms,
after the dry rock and the blistering sun
the cool hands of the sea, the melting in water.
To each his element,
fire for the lover, air for the ghost,
and water for the stubborn, the estranged of God.

The revelation comes not. Lies, all lies.

I cried: I will rope in the sun,
drive him in triumph across the open heavens
holding the fiery reins with blistered fingers,
then shall I be myself, redeemed or damned.
I stood irresolute.

The sun went down behind the hill,
the sea grew pale, bewitched me with a semblance
of something I had seen once in a dream
or in the sweet sloth of my mother's womb.
I plunged, and drowned.

Mr Fairburn to his Bibliographer

O Live! Give Dewey innocence, false pride,
Lot's wife in mind, no backward-longing look:
Invoke the gods—take Bacchus for your guide,
Venus for chaperone. And may you not
Ever be brought to book.

page 153

On a Bachelor Bishop

The quarry of the ladies' sewing guild,
with opportunities like other men,
shyly prefers to leave the field untilled,
and lies abed with fantasies till ten.

This labourer in the vineyard of the Lord
has never stained his dentures with the grape,
a dozen spinsters wither and grow bored,
wan victims of an unattempted rape.

Upon his tumbled bed the sunlight falls,
and waking eyes Ulysses-like unfold
that map of ecstasy, the bedroom walls,
still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.

The phallic chart reveals to drowsy eyes
a rapturous diversity of shapes;
his larval thoughts wing forth and crawl like flies
among the vine-leaves and the clustered grapes.

The pattern melts beneath his gaze of fire,
and leaf and fruit, transfigured in that change,
yield transcendental figures of desire,
and tendrils turn to something rich and strange.

And in His Grace's vineyard (private heaven
laid up in pattern) subtly intertwine
subjective thought and feeling and the given
object—the vile, the violent and the vine.

The sewing guild is meeting at eleven
('.. Your Grace..to morning tea..please condescend..')
His Grace, alas! is in his paper heaven.
His Grace is much too busy to attend!

page 154

The County

Pity on poor dog Tray, alas!
cuffed by the farm-hand's lad and lass.

The farm-hand has both son and daughter:
on family ties he maketh water.

The farmer, next in God's great plan,
now micturates upon the man.

The parson (too genteel to piss)
takes farmers' tithes, content with this.

From the County seat Lord Knocknees doth
make noble water on the Cloth.

From Lord Knocknees to kitchen hound
how shall we make the perfect round?

Lord Knocknees, waiting at the meet,
dismounts to ease the County seat.

A naughty hound now lifts his leg
against Lord Knocknees' noble peg.

The circle's full. This ancient land
on sure foundation yet shall stand.

Note on the State Literary Fund

Here is a piece of wisdom
I learnt at my mother's knee:
The mushroom grows in the open,
The toadstool under the tree.

page 155

On R. A. K. Mason

Here's Mason, who would greet us
With some damned tag from Epictetus.
His belly was so full of Latin
He fouled the very chair he sat in.

page 156page 157page 158

* U and Non-U: Fundamental basis of classification of New Zealanders, devised by the poet T. Bracken.