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The New Zealand Reader

The Magician

The Magician.

But he whose grief was most sincere
The news of that unwonted death to hear,
Was Kangapo, the Tóhunga*—a Priest
And fell Magician famous far and near;
A Thaumaturge regarded with more fear
Than any living or than most deceased.
Men whispered that his very body swarmed
(Crammed as a war canoe with warriors armed)
With evil spirits rustling thick
As blue-flies buzzing in a wayside corse:
And some more credulous would trembling tell
How when demoniac inspiration quick

* Tohu, a sign or omen; hence Tohunga, a dealer in omens, an Augur.

page 101 And strong, in frenzy and full force
Bushed on him (it was vouched for well),
The grass would wither where his shadow fell;
Or, were the sliding shutter of his door
Just then left open, by the river side,
Such deadly emanations would outpour,
Mere strangers chancing in canoes to glide
Beneath the house, had stiffened there and died.*
These tales were Kangapo's delight and pride.
And yet his mien that dread renown belied;
So calm and mild; his eyes deepset and dark
Abstracted still and unobservant seemed;
But those who dared to watch him long would mark
How those dim eyes would on a sudden shift
And glitter like a lizard's; then again
Fall still and calm; and yet that glance so swift
Seemed quite enough, as rapidly if gleamed,
To single out and give his scheming brain
All they could closely hide as clearly see.
His voice was gentle too, and low, and sweet;
So men compared him to the tutu tree,
Whose luscious purple clusters hang so free
And tempting, though with hidden seeds replete
That numb with deadly poison all who eat.
And then his pace was stealthy, noiseless, soft,
So that a group of talking people oft
Turned round and found him, none knew how or whence,
Close by them, with his chilling influence:
As that great wingless, loathsome locust bare,
That scoops from rotting trees his pithy fare,
With elephantine head and horny jaws
And prickly high-propped legs is sometimes found
Upon your limbs or clothes, in sluggish pause,

* Some of these powers are attributed to a sorcerer in Sir George Grey's Polynesian Mythology.

Coriaria ruscifolia. A large bush, with deep green leaves. "The juice of the berries is purple, and affords a grateful beverage to the natives." The fruit hangs in thick fringes. The seeds "produce convulsions, delirium, and death."

Deinacrida heterocantha [the Weta].

page 102 Inside the house; though none upon the ground
Have marked him crawling slow from his retreat,
The fire-logs, when dislodged by glowing heat.
So anxious now his auguries he plied
For some forecast of fate his course to guide.
First, by the solitary shore, he drove
His gods into the ground: each god a stick
Knobbed with a carved and tattoo'd wooden head,
With fillet round the neck of feathers red;
Then to each idol he attached a string;
And in monotonous accents high and quick
His incantations wild began to sing.
But still the impatient patient Sorcerer strove
With frequent jerks to make it yield a sign
Whence might be drawn an omen of success:
Nor this so difficult as you divine,
Nor need the gift his Atua much distress.
The slightest hint a Priest for answer took;
Let but a grass-green parrakeet* alight
To pluck from some wild coffee-bush in sight,
And nibble with his little moving hook,
The scarlet berries; let some kingfisher
Slip darting from the post whose summit grey
He crowned—a piece of it—the live-long day—
Long bill protruding from his shoulders high—
Watching the lake with sleepy-vigilant eye,
Looking so torpid and so loth to stir,
Till that faint silver twinkle he descry;
Let, gold-cuirassed, some hard ichneumon-fly§
Drag with fierce efforts to its crevice nigh
A velvet striped big spider, sore distrest,
Struggling in vain, and doomed to be the nest

* Psittacidæ; two species, Platicereus auriceps and P. Novæ Zealandiæ. First has a yellow, second a crimson crest.

Karamu. Fruit and seeds like small coffee-berries, in scarlet colour, arrangement, and taste.

Alcedinidæ; Halcyon vagans.

§ About the size and shape of a wasp; thorax, pure golden; abdomen, bright ruddy brown; both very hard.

page 103 And food of that wasp-tyrant's worm new-hatched;
Nay, less significant the sign might be
For which, the keen-eyed sorcerer sung and watched;
A passing cloud—a falling leaf—the key
Might offer to unlock the mystery,
Which with his wishes surely would be matched.
Nor could our Augur set his mind at ease
With simple divinations such as these:
And he was almost tempted to invoke
The Spirits of the Dead who sometimes spoke
Through, him, the Arch-Magician and Adept;
Half-tempted in his own case to accept
Answers his own ventriloquism feigned;
Ready to square his faith to his desire,
And half-believe supernal spirits deigned
To prompt his organs and his speech inspire.

Alfred Domett

("Ranolf and Amohia").