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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 6 (October 2, 1933)

New Zealand Verse

page 38

New Zealand Verse

Rotten Row.

(Most harbours scattered over the seven seas have a last haven for ships which have passed from the sphere of usefulness. This haven, in the parlance of the sea is called Rotten Row. Although the following lines refer to the old ships in Wellington Harbour they are more or less applicable to most harbours of the world.)

Etched in light by the sunset's glow
Lie the rusting ranks of Rotten Row,
Where only the wailing seagulls go,
And the oily tide in its ebb and flow
Murmurs the story of Rotten Row.
Rotten Row, where the rusting hulls
Of ships which floated as light as gulls,
And battled the storm in their youthful pride,
Now swing at their mornings—side by side.
Passed is their day, as well they know,
But Romance remains in Rotten Row.
There's romance in rust and foreign mud,
In salt-grimed stacks which the tempest's scud
Has battered and spattered in many a “blow”—
Such are the treasures of Rotten Row.
Perchance at their moorings they meditate
On the China seas and the Golden Gate,
On the Northern Lights and the Arctic Snow,
And the shimmering heat of Borneo.
On the Seven Seas and the bright Pole star,
And the scent of the coast off Malabar.
Or fondly imagine they feel again
The battering comber—the beat of rain,
The reckless joy of a Biscay “blow,”
While they mutter together in Rotten Row.
Of skippers and crews and merchandise,
Of copra and coffee and coal and rice,
And the hundred times they crossed the “line”
In the days when they battled the biting brine.
And doubtless those ancients speak with pride
As they swing to the pull of the ebbing tide,
Of the manner they weathered an “old-man blow”
In the nineties, off Monte Video.
And tell of a gale in the Celebes,
In the days when they wandered the Seven Seas.
They're rusty and foul with green sea mould.
Their engines are dead, and their fires are cold,
And never again will they put to sea,
Unless on the ocean of Memory
They're sailing the seas which they used to know.—Ken Alexander.

* * *


I often fancy Heaven's angels dwell
So near to Queenstown that their voices fall
Like vesper music with its holy spell,
When soft the tui to his mate doth call.
Betimes I picture, when the parting day
Leaves rosy kisses on the mountain side,
Or moonlight shyly spends a golden ray,
That some fair god is passing with his bride.
I wonder not that tourists in amaze
Step on thy shores with reverential tread,
And bare their heads before the crimson blaze
Of sunset glory when the day is sped.
I find no heaven in my richest dreams
Surpassing with its shades of mystic brown,
When moonlight o'er the fairy harbour gleams,
The wondrous beauty of this quaint old town.

* * *

By Tasman Bluffs.

On a bit of headland in Tasman Bay,
Out-thrust towards sea and sky,
The children of Tane bow low, they say—
Bend their backs as the wind goes by.
Karaka, birch, and manuka, too.
And the long green tufty grass,
Turn from Matangi, the wind god, who
Is in thunderous haste to pass.
And then some days in a terrible gale,
On their poor bent backs he sweeps,
And they shudder and moan—so goes the tale—
While Tane, their mother, weeps.
On this bit of headland in Tasman Bay,
Where the trees are crippled and bent,
Matangi will have his merciless way,
'Till the breath of the god is spent.

page 39

Hail, Majestic Aorangi.

Hail, majestic Aorangi,
Hail, O mighty mountain monarch;
Rearing high thy shining summit
To the first bright beams of morning,
Which transform thy snow-topped turrets
To a thousand fairy castles;
Or, when sinks the sun to slumber,
Catching all his dying splendour
On thy rugged, rocky ramparts,
Aorangi, Light of Heaven.
Hail, O frowning Aorangi,
With thy summit mist-enshrouded,
Looming grim and gaunt and ghostly,
'Gainst the grey of gathering snow clouds.
Round about thee beats the blizzard,
Leaps the lightning, rolls the thunder,
Shrill and shriller shrieks the storm wind,
Yet thou standest, still and silent,
Winter's fearful force defying.
Aorangi, Frowning Giant.
Hail, Eternal Aorangi,
Thou who kept thy lonely watches
Long before the dark-skinned Maori
Came to these enchanted islands—
Came and blessed them for their fulness
After days of dearth and hunger.
Thou who watch will still be keeping
While New Zealand stands to witness
God's great goodness to his children,
Aorangi, the Eternal.

* * *


The little singing streams go down,
And that's been said before;
But if you saw the place I know,
That runs with self same splash and flow
As little streams are wont to go.
Clear waters down a hillside's frown—
You'd smile at me no more.
The little singing streams go by,
And that's a tale that's told;
But Mangamiri water gleams
Like dearer waves we see in dreams;
I set apart from other streams
These cool brown drops that lift and lie
Above their speckled gold.
The little singing streams go past,
And that's a tale I've read;
But when the gay waves lift and cry
Above the stones, as they pass by,
(Round moss-grown stones embedded lie),
I see the sweetest stream at last
Run through its dreaming bed.
The little singing streams go down,
And that's been told again;
But I should like to say once more
There is no stream that I adore
(Clear waters on a dappled floor),
More than the Mangamiri brown
In sunshine or in rain.


Here was a wilderness where her fair flowers grow,
Here grew the raupo where her iris blow;
Here in the swamp came the wild fowl feeding,
Where little mother kneels to her endless weeding.
Here in the night came the weka calling,
Now in the dusk pink petals falling
To fresh-ploughed earth, and their almond breath
Weeps with the willow for the old swamp's death.
Low to the water came the wild cat creeping—
And the cherry tree to the wind is weeping—
Here came the wild hare to its gentle playing,
Where on the wall is the trained vine swaying.
Swaying where the toi toi and the couch grass twined,
Where the lilies and the concrete paths go straightly lined;
Carnation and hyacinth and ivory white,
With geranium and lilac stain the cold moonlight.
Here in the peace the wind has stayed it's crying
For the wild past that was so long in dying;
From the low fields the banked mists come creeping—
But the spent tree cannot cease from weeping—
Under the cherry tree the little ghosts lie sleeping.

* * *

Cape Kidnappers.

The sand lies damp and hard, a narrow way
Between the sparkling sea and sunbathed land,
The cliffs tower high above me, wanly grand
With crumbling tracks and shaded bands of clay;
And I step gaily forward on my way.
Sharp gullies crack the lonely wall's grim height,
Slips have come down, but through an arch of rock
Standing serene against the ocean's shock,
I step from land of shade to land of light
A vivid land of blue, bright green and white.
The cape juts on into the sea and sky.
I climb an ever upward winding track,
But pause to rest awhile and to look back
On shining sands. Unheeded hours might fly,
Or Time himself stand still and wonder why.
It is so hushed but for the gannets’ screams,
The world becomes a lost, forgotten place
With no loved form and no remembered face,
Until across my sea a crude boat steams,
And I am rudely wakened from my dreams.

page 40