new zealand electronic poetry centre

Ursula Bethell

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Of late when I saw a cruel moon
riding alone in the night-sky
sure of his Mesopotamian hymns,
wind-driven white clouds hastening eastwards
seeming to flee in fear from his terrible face,

I thought of the child who, wind-awakened,
crept to her dormer-lattice and peered trembling
at bluegums tossed and torn by the nor’west storm,
their gaunt boughs shaken in torment before the face of a dazzling moon.
sparrow stacks riven and scattered and fledglings slain,
(wrong birds building nests,
would you say, in the wrong trees?) – –

Oh fear, fear, clutching the heart – not yet,
only the hint, the falling away,
the river, they said, bank to bank –
Tarawera, Tarawera the terrible!
Gone, gone the Pink Terraces! talked of
and made into pictures of dream –
the comet, pointed at, there amid the usual stars,
the shuddering fear at the heart of the known – –
Did you, dedicate maiden, gaze at your cruel deity
from the blue-tiled tower in Ur of the Chaldees
and tremble to think of the terror hid at the heart of glory?

Come away, come away, Father Abram, hasten,
follow the star of faith faint to the westward
of many deserts, the shepherd of Israel leads
to the city which hath foundations
and shall not fall by earthquake or fearful storm.

From Collected Poems (Caxton, 1950)


Last updated 22 May, 2005