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:
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
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. It’s 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
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 We Three kings of Orient are to almost an older New Zealander and you will get the response one in a tractor, two in 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).
by: e.e. cummings (1894-1962)
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
And as I say – being a realist –
I wish you a marginally above average Christmas and New Year.