another loss

January 17th, 2008

And so Hone Tuwhare has also passed away. Damn, he was by far my favourite New Zealand poet. Well, no, just plain one of my favourites. He was a boiler maker by trade with not terribly much in the way of formal education, but he was a natural poet who could speak directly to the soul.

He published the first book of poetry by a Maori writer in English, No Ordinary Sun, in 1964. Here is what I think is one of the most powerful poems from that book:


Ere gods were shaped

to polished images of brass

and fired clay

the meek stone hardened

to a consciousness its own.


From its soul’s core sun

to another sun responded:

succoured the lonely man

his tribe’s invention of trees

sweeping the sky’s floor clean


When gods were fused

to an angered one

all-seeing triple-faced


did this man’s tribe store

reverence for the stone

from whence plants sprang

sweet water leapt:


and jeaolous of its well-spring

destroyed utterly

the new god’s sour

and honeyed strength

turning alas

the meek stone’s joy

to a cloud

to an ashen face.

(taken from the 1998 re-edition of 1964’s No Ordinary Sun)

I guess one thing that shows clearly the era in which No Ordinary Sun was published and just how new it was to have a Maori poet publishing in English for a general, and not specifically Maori, audience, is that even in the 1998 re-edition, Mauri comes with a footnote explaining:

Mauri is a material symbol of the hidden principle protecting vitality. Life principle, talisman, thymos of man. (Denotative meaning taken from Dictionary of Maori Language by Rev. Hoani Laughton.)

I once saw Hone Tuwhare at a poetry reading in Dunedin back in my Scarfie days: Imagine that poem read by the rambling, surly voice of a burly boiler-maker who still looked like he’d feel more comfortable in the railyards than surrounded by young intellectual types in a cafe.

Such a sad January for Aotearoa. A New Year of giants falling and legends passing into weak memory.

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