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

The Chants of the Maori

The Chants of the Maori.

Domett took Maori song-themes and expanded the often staccato measure into poetry of luxuriant imagery. He described the native chants as “the very pemmican of poetry,” in allusion to their concentrated form. His method was to obtain a literal translation and then to broaden and develop and embroider the lines into a version that would convey the full idea to English readers. He had learned something of the language, and he was assisted in the translation of the songs by such men as Captain Gilbert Mair.

In 1868 Mair was in Wellington for some time, and it was then, I think, that he interpreted for Domett some of the chants in Sir George Grey's collection of songs, “Nga Moteatea,” in which only the original Maori is given. Laments for the dead, warchants, love-lilts are amplified with vividness of imagery and richness of language.

Everywhere in the great poem there are lines that print themselves unforgettably on the mind. To the primitive Maori he paints:

“All Nature was a human face,
A Sybil with a thousand tongues.”

There are pictures in a single line, as—

“Wind-swept, a waft of seabirds white went scattering up the sky.”