new zealand electronic poetry centre

Ursula Bethell


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Picnic

Gaol-breakers from routine, we halted our four-cylindered
trusty and timeworn chariot upon a yielding greensward
beside the random shingle of a sequestered by-path
through land half-unredeemed and half-subdued by settlers,
and with the sweet perfume of lawless gorse invested,
upleaning to the wall of tawny, rock-strewn Port Hills.

Untroubled, slow milch-kine, with prizeworthy rich udders,
behind us nuzzled softly among man-selected grasses
in the shadow of a tree-dark, wind-forbidding hill-spur;
and we looked upon a piece of planted orchard, spring-green,
sunlit, sheltered, where, a procession of bridesmaids,
twelve young quince-trees quivered their blossom-sprinkled garlands.

Two baskets, osier-fashioned by soldiers invalided
from the last and vastest of our armageddons,
furnished convenient rations for a pretty meal alfresco;
refreshed, we fell to sharing and collating the material
proper to the occasion of our impromptu festival,
the looked-for, newly delivered, fortnightly foreign letters.

Becalmed in anamnesis, we gave ourselves to silence;
on past, present, and future I gazed with widening compass,
and dipped with questing plummet deep in darksome thought-ponds;
considering that those composed and sweetly-sleeping hill-slopes
were but the mellowed refuse from infernal furnaces
flinging, the other day, their molten boulders heavenwards.

And that from this clear and cloud-bedecked blue ceiling
might shortly rain down fearful and deadly fire and brimstone,
(they say) from long fore-planned and fore-damned machinations,
fruit of our most elaborate rationalisations of hatred
and justifications of terror, prepared for the hara-kiri
of earth’s loftiest masterpiece, lore-drunken humanity.

But for a midge’s moment, between the noble unconscious
mineral uproar, the mute half-conscious on-tending
river of bioplast, and our immense abolishings,
sapient obliterations, mutual annihilations,
before the ultimate crime, the grand triumphal felony,
the last and final blasting of fragile-flowered life-tree.

But for a brief interval, this bread broken in amity,
this notice of a goldfinch flitting among the leafage
of stripling quince, whose shell-pink decoration
sways very gently on delicate shell-blue canopy;
but for a brief moment this balm and opiate of song-lark
filling with heedless ecstasy the calm precarious sky . . .

 


From Day and Night (Caxton, 1939)

 


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Last updated 10 April, 2005