new zealand electronic poetry centre

Ursula Bethell

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Levavi Oculos

The delicate lines of the hills of this country,
   Rain-swept and sun-tanned, naked to the four winds,
Console our tired eyes as the high-lineaged kine do,
   With their fine-chiselled flanks in a near field reclined,
Bring solace, calm as the quiet hills are,
   Composed of the same lineaments in one design.

These tussocked hills have the texture of paduasoy,
   Seen afar off, or a venerable mere smoothed
And soft-surfaced by immemorial friction;
   Or of brown-leathered, road-worn shoes;
Or of shrine-steps, foot-rounded by pilgrims,
   Or a dun-wooded, kiss-saluted rood.

Wish not for these again their cloak and vesture,
   The rich and dark array, fire-burned and axe-felled
By foreign tribes, (even ours, ours, the invaders),
   But hail these clean lines, with him who first beheld
The divine form revealed of a young lissom goddess,
   Poised, zephyr-sped, on brim of voyaging shell.

These lines, at night-fall, melting into the arable,
   Enclosing wine-tawny and grape-violet shades,
Affect us as a faint air might, played upon a virginal,
   So long ago that all pain it held then is allayed;
Or clarinet, so far distant it brings us but a memory
   Of healed lament, in the dim twilight dying away.

These hills at dawn are of an austere architecture;
   Claustral; like a grave assembly, night-cold numbed,
Of nuns, singing matins and lauds in perpetuity,
   While the sluggard multitude without is dumb;
But at sunrise carmined, gilded; as of rare cosmetics
   A girl takes, for more beauty now, lest her lover come.

But at mid-day, the bare hills have a remote wildness,
   Like a young colt or filly, unrestrained
And running lithely, never having known bit nor bridle,
   Or lying down quiet, knowing not spur nor rein . . .
How often, on dusty plain pent, have I lifted up mine eyes there,
   And found freedom, and found mind-liberty again!


From Time and Place (Caxton, 1936)


Last updated 10 April, 2005