December 2010


BEDE 673-725

 
Thirteen hundred years since you were born
Whose quiet voice settled the date of Easter,
With your book history for the English
Was begun. After so many years
Familiar to us and venerable,
Like an old schoolmaster who taught the sixth
Form’s grandfathers, in a green and chalky gown.
The chieftains flickering outside your light
Found you a kind of Merlin, maker of runes,
No spell more binding this side the Wendel sea.
Sixty years almost on a spit of land
Above the Tyne! Northumbria bounded
By a wall the Romans built to keep out
Anarchy, the long ships of the Northmen
Would bring it in by sea.
Prayer, study, teaching was what you called
Commitment, in these ‘I ever took delight.’
To-day on Jarrow’s central square two figures
Stare from stone and both are Vikings.
Only destroyers need a monument.
The Church has placed you in her calendar.

— Frank McKay *

A LETTER FROM ROBERT GRAVES

 
By Courtnay Place, waiting for the lights to change,
A girl from a class I hardly knew
Slipped from the arm of her boy and held my thought
By the hands. Voice too urgent for greeting
She told how the poet of the three-fold
Goddess found time to write. Hair
Thrown to the wind, eyes blue with mystery,
She whispered his words:
                                ‘Heroes of truth
And innocence are almost gone. Watch for them.’

The southerly blew through her eyes, tears
Came. ‘No,’ she cried, ‘there are none,
Not even one.’ The lights changed and she left me.
Her dress brushed the noses of throbbing cars.

— Frank McKay *

(* “This small collection of poems by Frank McKay has been printed by several student hands to mark his retirement after twenty years as a member of the Department of English, Victoria University of Wellington.”)


Rumpelstiltskin

 
Meeting you again
after all this time,
I’m afraid I won’t like you
Rumpelstiltskin,
King of Compression,
Lord of Inanimate Things!
Why must you stamp
your jewelled words
into the ground at my feet?
I will spin straw
into gold for you
if I must, but know,
cantankerous wretch,
that, being woman,
I am the queen of all
that is transformed.
Little King of Straw, think!
It is I who make you great.

— Meg Campbell

Only My Woes

 
Being unusually happy these
past few weeks, I have stopped
talking to you, my friend–
there is little to say. How can I
tell you of the seemingly trivial
things that elate, or calm me?
‘Tonight, Venus lies close
to the new moon. Tonight
he smiled at me, and I remembered
how his eyes used to burn approvingly.’
I won’t tell you these things
because my happiness bores you
in a way that my misery never does.
By the flickering of your eyes,
I know that your mind is elsewhere.
Something tells me you wish
to hear only my woes.

— Meg Campbell
 

Dream on a Good Friday

a love poem

I slept, and woke
and slept again
and dreamed, inside your arms,
of two darkened figures
moving quietly towards
a brilliant screen.
I was surprised to see
that they were irises–
purple, and black, like secrets
buried in me. I cried out,
and you hushed my mouth,
and took the night watch
and the haunting left me.

–Meg Campbell

8.

For you
or memory of you
my mind writes letters
composing phone calls
things to say, as every day
is rescued, by patterns of its own

these days
the dawn is something
worth getting up for —
kahawai in the estuary
a new neighbour to meet
plans for moving south

but there’s still you
or memory of you

and messages with nowhere to go

–Pat White*

(* on the inside cover of the book:
Prospero:
“What seest thou else
In the dark backward and abysm of time?”

— The Tempest: Act 1, Scene 2. )

Poems by obscure New Zealand poets, whose small, hand-set and printed volumes found in a Wellington second-hand bookshop.

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SELF-DEPENDENCE

By Matthew Arnold

1.
Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards o’er the starlit sea.

2.
And a look of passionate desire
O’er the sea and to the stars I send:
“Ye who from my childhood up have calmed me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!

3.
“Ah, once more,” I cried, “ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!”

4.
From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
“Wouldst thou BE as these are? LIVE as they.

5.
“Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

6.
“And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silvered roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.

7.
“Bounded by themselves, and unregardful
In what state God’s other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see.”

8.
O air-born voice! long since, severly clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
“Resolve to be thyself; and know that he
Who finds himself loses his misery!”