new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde



Concerning Godwits 

But many people do not know what a godwit is. And the dictionary says sourly, a kind of marsh bird. Of the immense northerly migrations that yearly in New Zealand, when summer is gone, shake wings into the sky as if from a giant's salt-pot, nothing is told. But this is true: every year, from sandy hollows in the north of the northernmost of those three islands, the godwits set out on a migration beside which the swallow's blue hither and yon is a mere stroll with wings.

And it is true, too, that the godwits, flying north, never go near England. They fly to Siberia. But to a child in this book, it was all more simple. A long way was a long way. North was mostly England, or a detour to England.

Later she thought, most of us here are human godwits; our north is mostly England. Our youth, our best, our intelligent, brave and beautiful, must make the long migration, under a compulsion they hardly understand; or else be dissatisfied all their lives long. They are the godwits. The light bones of the mother knew it before the chick was hatched from the eggshell.

England is very beautiful, she thought, staring at a tree whose hair . . . not properly flowers . . . was the colour of fire. And this also is very beautiful.

"Where is Mowbray? Where is Mortimer?" whisper the old leaves of their history. "Nay, and more than all these, where is Plantagenet?" But ours, darker, might cry, "Where is Selwyn? Where is Rutherford? Where is Katherine, with weeds on her grave at Fontainebleau, when what she really wanted was the dark berry along our creeks? (Don't you remember? We call them Dead Man's Bread.) Nay, and more than all these, where are our nameless, the beautiful and intelligent who went away and died, in wars and otherwise, the beautiful and intelligent who went away and hopelessly failed, or came back and were never themselves any more?"

Passing judgements on any circumstance, compulsion, fate, is no use at all, she thought. England is beautiful: this also is beautiful. They are the godwits. Still, I think it odd, because I know this country. Think not without a bitter price. . . . That's for the easy brittle plough, that wants our hills.

We are old and can wait, said the untamed soil against which she pressed her fingers; although it, more than anything else, was awake and aware of its need to be a country . . . the integration of a country from the looseness of a soil. Maybe, responded the girl; though logically, living or dead, they ought to have the same compulsion to come back . . . the godwits, I mean. And, of course, there's something fine, a King of the Castle feeling, about having the place almost to oneself. Fine but lonely. . . .

Only fools, said the sparse-ribbed rock, are ever lonely.

Robin Hyde

Last updated 02 October, 2001