new zealand electronic poetry centre

Ursula Bethell

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By The River Ashley


It was the river, the river. We played there,
out, out of the house, out of the garden, out under the wide sky.
The little rivers, convenient to us, they ran apart, they conjoined.
They ran clear and bright over precious stones,
purple and pale green and dark green, and the white pebbles too.
Take them home, the best colours, put them to dry in the sun –
Gone! out of the water of illusion, gone dull, all the same grey.
(Well we understood the experience of Rosamund and her Purple Jar!)
But there were still good shapes and good smooth feel;
find these for pockets.
So many little moss fields, red fields with harvests, green cushions,
very small white flowers there were among the big stones,
and the stones had strange ornamentations.
Always the chatter of the waters, cheerful chattering,
rippling over the pebbles, round the stones. . . .

(Over there by the bank the deep water,
cart-wheels going down – don’t look there to-day;
grand with a shudder of fear when the two-ponied
wagon of ours would splash in and dash up
and our carriage rugs wet from the ford.
A Drive! a day of excitement,
carried away over the foothills,
our river dwindled behind, other strange rivers beyond.)

Hurry, hurry, say the rivulets. Haere ki te moana,
Hurry, hurry, hurry to the sea.
No hurry, said the little shallows,
a long day, a sunny day, let us go to sleep in the sun.
We were drowsy, on a bit of soft sand lying could look at the sky.
Then out of a basket the open-air food, with a different taste.

Over the wooden bridge, rumble-bumpy, tugged the North Train,
so reliable, so reasonable the North Train,
it knew where it was going and got there in course of time.
Noble look, incomparable sounds, but it went out of our lives
without envy. A rich life we had, and the days full . . .
(oh God, Thou knowest the sorrows, I will tell of the pleasure,
others lacked what I had, if I lacked their joy).

Tired of all these the various satisfactions
at last gladly home, our day gone grey like the stones,
the young animal bodies craving but one satisfaction,
but one, Bed.

From Collected Poems (Caxton, 1950)


Last updated 22 May, 2005