Final Poetry Column of the Year

Sun, rain and Christmas

By Gill Ward

Here we go last one for 2017 and what a sunny end to the year, although I feel guilty about enjoying it when New Zealand needs rain.

I know Hone Tuwhare’s words from his iconic poem Rain would echo with those longing for rain:

the something

special smell of you

when the sun cakes

the ground

 

Of course it is a poetical/literary time of the year and there is a wealth of beautiful poems out there to celebrate or recognise Christmas.

 

Journey of the Magi

 

One of my favourites is T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi.  It tells the story of the journey through the eyes of the Magi.

 

How they gave into distractions on the way meaning that there was some regret about their foolishness making them tardy so that they arrived ‘in the very dead of winter’.

 

They  notice the symbolic ‘three trees on the low sky.’ and then the moving line ‘were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There is a story in that poem – a visual story, Eliot has brought their journey to life.

 

Kiwi Christmas celebrations

 

I think last year I mentioned our early New Zealand poet Eileen Duggan and her poem, A New Zealand Christmas, describing gifts the three wise Maori chiefs would have brought to the stable. That is a visual poem too. Duggan imagines the New Zealand scene in realistic detail.

 

In 2008 the Alexander Turnbull Library  put out a publication A New Zealand Christmas.  Three centuries of Kiwi Christmas celebrations.

 

This book gives a window into Christmas’s past.  Shadows on the Snow was one of the first novels published in New Zealand in 1865. It was set in the Otago Goldfields. The author Benjamin Leopold Farjeon wrote this in his preface:

 

It has long been a matter of surprise [to the author], that Christmas in this and other Colonies should have been so allowed to pass without some literary effort being made to recognise its genial influence.  If the publication of this book serves as a link in the chain that binds the hearts of residents of the Colonies to their home lands, his ambition will be satisfied.

 

When the book was published, Farjeon sent a copy to Charles Dickens, whose polite but noncommittal response encouraged him to return to England and become a full time writer.

 

His daughter was the poet and writer Eleanor Farjeon who wrote that song made popular by Cat Stevens, Morning has Broken. They sing that in schools in England as a hymn.

 

Treasures from the Turnbull

 

The Turnbull Library book is a treasure trove of information and memories. So much to learn and talk about.

 

I was interested to see 2 Christmas and New Year postcards from 1886. One of Lake Wakatipu and one (astonishingly) of an industrial looking drawing of Grahamstown Goldfield  in Thames, smoking chimney stack and all!

 

Grahamstown is now a thriving busy community of cafes, op shops, a pub and cinema and second hand and speciality shops. A delightful and stimulating part of town. The Sola Café, in its midst, has poetry readings in the evening the generous hosts provided some food and the atmosphere is welcoming and warm.

 

Fred Dagg sums it up

 

And how can we not remember John Clark and his persona Fred Dagg. RIP John you will not be forgotten..

 

We three kings of Orient are
One on a tractor, two in a car
One on a scooter
Tooting his hooter
Following yonder star

Oh, oh
Star of wonder
Star of light
Star of bewdy, she’ll be right
Star of glory, that’s the story
Following yonder star . ..

If you sing the line “We three kings of Orient are” to almost any older NZer, and you will get the immediate response, “One on a tractor, two in a car… “

 

 

 

I will end with a favourite poem of mine but the well known poet e. e. cummimgs who bravely dispensed with capital letters in his name (and the original punctuation and set-out in his poems).

little tree

by: e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

ITTLE tree

little silent Christmas tree

you are so little

you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest

and were you very sorry to come away?

see i will comfort you

because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark

and hug you safe and tight

just as your mother would,

only don’t be afraid

look the spangles

that sleep all the year in a dark box

dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,

the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms

and i’ll give them all to you to hold

every finger shall have its ring

and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed

you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see

and how they’ll stare!

oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands

and looking up at our beautiful tree

we’ll dance and sing

“Noel Noel”

And as I say – being a realist –

I wish you a marginally above average Christmas and New Year.

Gill