new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde

Persephone in Winter

A Song of Mokoia
Press the small flute of bone in dusk to thy lips, O shadow,
Play over music whose sharp new trouble is gone,
Whose longing is folded deep in the sleeping blood of the race;
Music that falls in dusk from the mouth of thy flute
Like the glassy sea-rubbed pebbles
Tossed a long time in the glittering palms of the sand;
Music that each man plays with a spellbound heart,
Thinking half of his own thought, half, as it were in sleep,
Of the old grief of the singer lost long ago.
Sing thus, out of the deeps of the racial mind,
Over the darkening waters to Hinemoa.

Sing to the Princess who swam this lake for a base-born,
(Casting off mat and plumage upon the shore,
Standing slender and brown in the rootless trees of the dusk
Ere she pointed her hands overhead like an arrow,)
"To-day there is no Princess, to-day no base-born,
Nor any hot love comes leaping the barricade,
Nor any curved arm comes dipping out of the dusk-wave.
But there are ways for the mouths of men to laugh basely,
And a way of fleering in song, and that is base-born.
And a way of looking basely upon a woman’s body —
And no maid stepping down through the fringes of flame,
Through the brands of these old burning pohutukawa,
Plunges her limbs in rippling cold for her love,
Shakes off shells of light from her narrow flanks,
Rests on the gourds, and prays to the dragon-one
Whose slow heart pulses with lake-blood, te taniwha.
No slim body comes cresting over the verge
Leaving a wake of pearl on ebony waters.
Still the pool on Mokoia’s isle lies empty
Folding its glossy cloak no more round the thighs of its lady,
Lifting its magic cup no more to the lover,
Hinemoa, e hine-i-arohia."
Sing to the spear-born shadow Tutanekai,
"Truly to-day is a world of weapons and warriors.
Not of the greenstone flash that cleaves the brain,
Not of the roar of throats, but the roar from mouths of iron,
Hard for thy heart to believe, O tall-plumed striver.
Not to-day the plume bound into the hair
Nor the hard-knotted thigh be the signs of battle.
But dew of the earth is against us, a deathly dew
Soaking rank from the plains round the white man’s cities.
But fog of the marsh is upon us, a deadly fog,
Marching an evil dream where the white man goeth.
Rangi our Father has opened vast red lips
Vomiting incensed flame at the word of the white man.
And we love not nor hate the face of a living foe,
For who shall love blistering dew, or hate falling fires?
No tattooed face comes shouting out of the dark,
No stark valour looms like a tree from flood.
There are new ways of fighting, and these be base-born.
Rest with they fathers, follow us not, O valiant."
Yet sing, "Over a head on Mokoia’s isle
The wild cherry bends its bough,
Petalled with stormy light, clustered with darkest fruit,
Home and haunt for the wild-ones,
And the swine root in the grass, in the tangled tufted
Meshes of moonlight by Hinemoa’s pool.
Say that the moon and the earth are a fire about her loins,
Dark fire and bright; and a fish comes leaping
Nearshore, and weds its lake with the sparkling ring
Of the little creatures that know not save to continue.
Say she has made an island within her heart,
Not only for thee, O hair of fragrance,
Not only for thee, O tall-made lord of greenstone,
But for those others, the exiles, the branded children
Of burning mists and insatiable dews.
There for ever shall black-heart cherries crush on their lips
There for ever shall light boughs lean on their laughter,
There on an island shall each one see his love
Out of the foam a fronded palm arising,
Out of the lake a shining fish come cleaving,
Shaking drops of song from her naked breasts.
There on her island shall none be poor or base-born,
None be withered, O player across lake-waters."



Last updated 24 September, 2003