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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 2 (May 1, 1934.)


Of the numerous gifted and cultured men who helped to pioneer New Zealand in the days of its beginning as a British colony, Alfred Domett was the greatest in a literary sense. His first home in this country, Nelson, became like Canterbury, a place where able writers such as he made their influence felt in the newspapers of the day. Domett occupied many public positions and was for a time Premier of the colony. But he was more a poet and a philosopher than a politician, and his title to fame rests on his great romantic poem of New Zealand primitive life “Ranolf and Amohia,” and on his lifelong friendship with the greatest English poet of his time, Robert Browning.

Alfred Domett was the first writer of any distinction to realise and appreciate the artistic and inspirational value of the Maori life and the religion and mythology and traditions of the race. And although his long epic poem was written more than sixty years ago no writer of poetry has equalled him in transcribing the many-coloured story of the Maori for English readers or in painting the tangled riotous glory of the New Zealand forest and the landscapes of the strange region of geyser, mountain and lake. One may speculate as to what Domett's life would have been had he not chosen to try his fortune in a new wild land, instead of remaining in the heart of the cultivated and literary world of which Browning and Tennyson were the chief figures in his day. But it is likely enough that he would have achieved less that was substantial and enduring had he continued in England than he accomplished in New Zealand, where he found so much that was new and vivid and stimulating, and entirely novel and wonderful. The Maori life and the Maori lore was an inexhaustible source of suggestions, a quarry from which he hewed and shaped powerful narrative and tender lyric verse. Much has been said and written during recent years to direct attention to the merits of Maori literature and Maori artcraft. Sir George Grey and Alfred Domett were the first to develop, after their respective methods, this rich and varied store of legend and wonder-tale and song. Grey was a recorder; Domett was an observer, a man of imagination, with a wide culture and a command of English as rich and luxuriant as the bush he loved.