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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 11 (February 1, 1940)

Aotea-roa — As The Poets Knew It

page 21

As The Poets Knew It

Buy my English posies!
Here's your choice unsold!
Buy a blood-red myrtle-bloom,
Buy the kowhai's gold
Flung for gift on Taupo's face,
Sign that spring is come—
Buy my clinging myrtle
And I'll give you back your home!
Broom behind the windy town; pollen
o' the pine—
Bell-bird in the leafy deep where the
ratas twine,
Fern above the saddle-bow, flax upon
the plain—
Take the flower and turn the hour, and
kiss your love again.”

Thus did Rudyard Kipling enshrine his memory of New Zealand in his famous “Song of the Flowers.” Let us, who know Aotea-Roa so well, agree that this is a remarkable word-picture painted by one who visited this land for a very brief period.

The simplicity of “the kowhai's gold flung for gift on Taupo's face” calls up the familiar memories of springtime in the Taupo district, when the pale trees were aglow against the lake, and tuis cried with hoarse and guttural throatings from branch to branch.

This poem, written in the latter part of Kipling's literary career, is full of the artistry of a long experience. One instance of his skill is the picturesque economy of “broom behind the windy town”; the more one reads it, the more impossible it seems that five words can contain such a complete and familiar description. It is indeed “giving back our home.”

There is another verse of Kipling's from “The Song of the Cities” which pays tribute to Auckland:

“Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite,
On us, on us, the unswerving season
Who wonder 'mid our ferns why men
To seek the Happy Isles.”

“Auckland last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart,” has become since then a much-used phrase, and one which Aucklanders might well remember, although the Queen City has progressed far since Kipling's description fitted, and Auckland can no longer be called loneliest or apart.

It is only natural that the poets should turn their pens to Wellington, and there is a verse from “Wet Weather” by Mr. Boyce Bowden which presents in happy form the Wellington weather so often rough and unpredictable. Listen to the back-fire of his lines, much like the steady fall of raindrops from a drenched umbrella, or the quelch of wet boot against wet pavement:

“The swift winds of Wellington may
swing into the west,
The clouds o'er Terawhiti may break
within the south,
The rain-song of Wellington will linger
in my breast,
For the moist kiss of Wellington is
music in my mouth.”

He has another description of a tram flashing past in the rain, full of roundheaded, bobbing people, “like round page 22 page 23
(Rly. Publicity photo.) Wellington City from the slopes of Mt. Victoria.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Wellington City from the slopes of Mt. Victoria.

peas in a pod.” The clouds of Terawhiti have filled this little poem with a very realistic downpour, and the flavour is definitely Wellingtonian.

Miss Eileen Duggan may be quoted from her first collection of poems, published in New Zealand by the “Tablet Press.” “My Land” is a very beautiful poem, and it strikes a new note in the praises of a new land

“My land is like a restless, daring child
That thirsts to drink up life, and scale
the stars;
Her parted lips and wondering eyelids
The world's knarled wisdom and its
Within her mother's hall she hears
grave speech,
And smooths to dignity her wilful
And when she smiles, a kowhai breaks
in bloom,
And when she laughs a tui chimes in
How can my heart slip through her
eager childish hands?”

When she smiles in springtime “a kowhai breaks in bloom,” many hearts have been stirred by her young beauty. The words of this poem seem to have fallen in place as easily as “a tui chimes in song” and they have themselves a grave dignity that mixes well with the eager similes.

Mr. Johannes Andersen has written a lovely little poem that seems filled with a sense of hazy quiet. Here is part of it:

“A grove of the southern palm
On an islet, alone
In the bosom unrippled and calm
Of a lake with its mountain zone.
The wild bee's singing
Has ceased in the great white gloom;
And the once gay-scented plume
Hangs lazily swinging.”

It is called “Ti Trees and the Kukupa.” Perhaps it is the shortclipped lines which produce the sleepy effect of warm air, where native pigeons mumble and croon across the white of manuka bloom. It is certainly a pleasant little description of an inland island in the mountain country of New Zealand.

Yet another poem celebrates the charm of the old world in the midst of this new land. “Akaroa” is by Mona Tracy:

“If so, 'tis sure they fade away
When rose and silver comes the day,
For never a phantom steals there down
To sunlit Akaroa town;
Yet chanting bird and chiming bell
Weave something of the old world spell,
And still in gardens there are set
The gillyflower, the mignonette,
The rata on the oak tree hung,
Ah, sweet it is … so old, so young!
The jonquil, mocking kowhai's gold—
So blithe, so new! So triste, so old!”

When one remembers all these and other poems which have been dedicated to New Zealand, it seems almost certain that just as other poets have sung of the wonder of ancient Greece, and thrilled us with “that village which men still call Tyre,” while Britons have told us of “the glory that is England” in the great masterpieces of the past, so too shall Aotea-Roa have her troubadours, and for us, at least, she is the worthiest of them all.

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