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Kowhai Gold

[Eileen Duggan]

page 1

Saint Peter
Each has his saint, and one may dream
Of Francis walking in a field,
Another turn where Michael dark
Springs slim and wild to lift his shield.

A third may let his loving light
Upon the whirling torch of Paul,
I dream of Peter's shaggy head
Bent blinking o'er his haul.

I smile for that old simple tongue,
So quick, so breathless to begin,
That, snubbed and silenced o'er and o'er,
Could never lock its wonder in.

I kneel to those old dogged feet
That padded on from shore to city,
I cry for that old troubled heart
That tried to tempt God out of pity.

And what of that poor broken soul
That crept out sobbing from the light,
Closing its ears against the bird
And beating blindly through the night!

How could he know except in tales
The majesty, the rune of law,
An old man bred to nets and sails,
Betrayed by ignorance and awe?

page 2

Ah dear to me! Ah dear to me!
That fear, that flying from the rod,
That ancient infidelity
Rewarded by a risen God.

And at the End
Once on a dewy morning
With the blue sky blowing apart,
Each bud broke on my eyelids,
Each bird flew through my heart.

I prayed for the faith of a starling
Under the tawny trees,
child or a holy woman,
What could be greater than these?

But now on a heavy morning
With the dull sky blowing apart,
When no flower blesses my eyelids,
And no wing brushes my heart,

I, made surer by sorrow,
Beg what seems more to me,
The faith of a willow in winter,
Or a blind hound nosing the knee.

page 3

The Legend of the Cuckoo
Young Christ went groaning up to Quarantana
With His tall head flung up against the sky.
Spring cried to Him from every bush and bramble;
He passed her blindly by.

Oh, every tree was given up to blossom,
And every bee burred in the broken lane,
But as He passed the little bees and blossoms
Were still with love and pain.

And every bird bent sideways in its sorrow,
And whispered softly to Him as He went,
"My brightness, are you black and lost in anguish,
My sweetness, are you spent?"

Yea, every bird except the careless cuckoo,
That working on in flurry and in fret,
Hollowed a nest and cried its own name over,
Nor saw His eyes were wet.

Young Christ came smiling down from Quarantana—
He blessed each bird along the broken lane,
And said, "My little pity, it is over,
My gladness, sing again!"

And then He turned and looked upon the cuckoo,
It gave one cry and flew off to the west,
Since then it may not cease its haunted flying,
Nor ever build a nest.

page 4

The Last Look
"Her dying look was all for you.
It touched you to the last," they said.
Are you not proud to think of that,
Though she is dead?

O death alive, is that peak proud Because
it was the last in gold?
It only knows the sky is blind,
And it is cold.

My quest lies far across the hidden waters,
The lands that touch the fairways are all charted,
I'd sooner dock than claim another's headland,
Though finds are few now.

I know it's somewhere lying on the sea bloom,
As tender and as dusky as a plum-bough,—
In cold of words and watches of the spirit,
I'll strain unto it.

And if I fail I will have had the thunder,
The bursting, bellying hours of rip and glory,
When the dumb sea lifts up its myriad dewlaps
Of lowing oxen.

But oh, the heady joy if I shall find it,
The telling it as if a court were listening,
And I a Spanish sailor with an island,
'Sire, deign to take it!"

page 5

Mary, the maiden, walked out in the country,
Telling the wheat what the angel had told her,
The bees tumbled out of the flag-flowers to listen,
The birds stopped their fledglings and told them to heed her.

A woman in blue with wheat to her knees,
Mid a silence of birds, and a stillness of bees,
Singing, "Golden, ah golden, with seedsprays unfurled,
Ripen within me, O wheat of the world!"

Mary, bluehooded, walked out in the country,
Telling the vine what no other must know yet,
The butterflies flew to her hems as to harebells,
The flowers on the bushes shook gold rain upon her.

A woman, gold-wet, with rainbow eyes,
And a border of living butterflies,
Singing, "Purple, ah purple, with tendrils close curled,
Ripen within me, O vine of the world."

"Had It Been You——"
"Had it been you——" my mother said,
And put my comfort by.
I was wept out and overspent
To ask her why.

page 6

It's sad to see a tree in flower
Blown over to the dust,
And mothers love a splendid thing
Because they must.

It did not even hurt me much,
I was so strange and sore.
Ah, when the sky has rained a flood,
What's one drip more?

It is a way they have in grief;
Not knowing what they do,
They turn upon the nearest one,
"Had it been you——"

Lo, How the Butterfly
Lo, how the butterfly, that paladin of air,
To whom blue acres are baronial things,
Who takes them as an eldest son the name—
Or owl the night—
Before the time of wings,
Lies blind, without reflection,
Entombed, enwound,
Forgotten and alone,
Till comes its Easter hour
Without a sound,
And oh, that cavalier of light,
That breathless one,
Bewildered by its coloured resurrection,
Rides up into the sun!

page 7

So even I,
When wings lift from my clod,
Breaking the sky,
May shimmer up to God.

The Dead Queen
They said she had strange ways and fed the poor,
That she could read old books and cross the wise,
And that she held much speech with serf and boor
For clog and shoe were equal in her eyes.

They said that her young robes could awe the hine
And set the proudest embassy to school,
Yet she would close the charters of her line
To melt in tender laughter at her fool.

They said she did not end her grace with men,
But honoured from her birth until her death
The smallest stirring thing within its den
That shared with her the magic beat of breath.

All this and more they said about her there,
And I—what was their murmuring to me,
Who could remember but her knot of hair,
Her eyes like Spanish shells that stoup the sea?

page 8

When first I read that page I read it slow.
I saw the woman fretting to and fro,
And then the calm one sitting at His feet.
Why did He stop the drudge and chide her so?

I was so young that hour, so hot and kind,
It seemed to me that Christ was blind, was blind,
'Twas well for that one listening on the floor,
The other had His comfort in her mind.

Why did He choose the idle one to bless?
Why did He hold a frowning toiler less
Than bird unbarned or haughty little flower,
Setting a holy sign on uselessness?

But if He came tonight in by my door,
I would, like Mary, listen on the floor,
For oh, her heart was toiling at His praise,
And it was I was blind, was blind before.

The Sea Gipsy
Lips without law and reckless head,
Defiant eyes and deedful hands,
What rest for you while stars are red
And little waves run by the lands?

Gold shells are gemstones in your hair,
And strips of kelp your ribands be,
Your ear-rings are the wild sea-beads,
Your flower the sea anemone.

page 9

The salt is crusted on your feet,
The salt that shines like all the South,
What rebel question troubles still
The scarlet threading of your mouth?

Is it the secret that you seek,
The hidden hest that drives you forth,
The wonder of your wanderings
From singing South to birdless North?

The end of your unquiet quest
Must ever be concealed, denied,
The riddle of your hunted race
Lies muted in some stirless side.

Bereft of choice by your dead queens,
Who trod through winds and suns and rains,
The coasts of both the Sicilies,
The shores of all the Spains.

You are condemned to wander still,
To share with gull and mew your food,
Your minted dower the crusted shell,
Your acreage the broad sea-rood.

By this strange sanction in your blood,
You leave the distaff and the keys,
The faggot red, the lintel-stone,
To be a beggar of the seas.

page 10

Any Small Nation
Unconscienced tyranny,
You crouch and say to me,
"Yield up your entity!"

Of sweet, unlessoned things,
No starling changes wings,
No thrush its mate's note flings.

The lovely ignorant rose
Inalienable knows
Each leaf wherewith she blows.

Each son of Adam's hod,
Each warm instructed clod
Holds tremblingly from God,

In fearful, binded trust,
For use unjust or just,
His own peculiar dust,

His spirit incommune;
As tides hold from the lune
The sway that sets their tune.

Each land in like degree,
Must ward immutably
Its children's liberty.

I am of mine the roll,
The composite, the whole,
Shall you then have my soul?

page 11

In vain your empery,
No haulm can tendril be,
No tarn turn to the sea!

Hark, and forever know!
Single and sole I go,
Bleeding, I mock your blow.

A New Zealand Christmas
Oh, the grace was on it that He chose that country—
We have kind oxen and our straw is sweet,
We have shepherds too now, and stables and a manger,
Had we but one footprint of His little feet!

Oh, my heart goes crying through these days of summer,
Through the sleepy summer, slow with streams and bees,
Had my land been old then, here He might have lighted,
Here have seen His first moon in the ngaio trees.

Oh, my heart goes crying through these days of waiting
While our lilies open and our tuts sing,
Had my Lord been born here angels might have ringed us,
Standing round our islands wing wide to wing.

Had my Lord been born here in the time of rata,
Three dark-eyed chieftains would have knelt to Him,
With greenstone and mats and the proud huia feather,
And the eyes of Mary, seeing, would grow dim.

page 12

Oh, my heart goes crying through these days of waiting,
We too have oxen and our straw is sweet,
We too have shepherds and stables and a manger,
Oh, for one clear footprint of His little feet!

A Maori Lullaby
Hark! the bittern calls her children
From the willow-weed and marsh-logs,
And the lonely little swamp-bird
Wades no more about the black bogs.
See the kelpies of the starshine,
Peeping each one through a blue bough,
Hearken to the voice of Rangi
Singing as I sing to thee now.
Sleep, my bright-eyed little weka,
Sleep, my huia-bird of twilight, Sleep, my brown moth of the branches;
Ate! Ate! Ate! Ate!

Hush—oh hush! my little wild one,
Hear the stirring in the hollow,
With thy restless little crying
Thou wilt wake the small sea-swallow.
Dearer than the bread of raupo,
Dearer than the sweet konini,
Dearer than the dead to Tane,
Yea, so dear art thou unto me.
Sleep, my bud of koromiko,
Sleep, my wild karaka berry,
Sleep, my red-lipped rata-blossom,
Ate! Ate! Ate! Ate!

page 13

A vanquished flax droops pennon by the pool
That shares the sorrow of a tattered tree,
And still is heard along the dreary cool
An old tired bittern booming timorously.

The marsh plant slowly drips its sombre seeds,
The very blackbird is a bird of rue;
A barren wind rustles the raupo reeds,
Breaking the silver bucklers of the dew.

God made this place for sallow twisted roots
And winds that limp the high-roads of the air,
For songless birds and broken-hearted fruits
And men who never learned a prayer.

The Last Song
Song comes to me
But haltingly,
A child that stretches hands of faith
Then draws them back again,
A sun that gilds me for a while,
Then hides for fear of rain,
I shall not sing again.
God has so many singing birds
To lilt from sunny throats,
Proud birds with slow, strong notes,
Like stately Dons of Spain;
God has full many singing birds
page 14 To mock on hill and plain
The tabor of the wind, the viol of the rain.

God has so many troubadours
With songs of March and May,
On pipe and flageolet,
To flute of flower and seed;
God has so many troubadours
To sing in court and train,
He will not miss my bitter reed,
I shall not sing again.