For a while I had an office in the Old Wooden Building that housed the old Department of Education overlooking the war memorial on the corner of Lambton Quay and Bowen Street. It’s a Wellington landmark. I’ve attended Anzac Day dawn services there.
When the both the Boer War and First World War broke out a wave of jingoism swept New Zealand. This reflected the mood of the Mother Country. The approach of the Second World War was greeted more apprehensively. New Zealand was now much more independent but it had been a leading advocate of collective security and I gather the mood was one of resolution as well as foreboding.
Robin Hyde wrote this poem in this period. It was before she went off to China, the first women war correspondent in that theatre after the Japanese invaded. I love the lines ‘home to your broth and your books, as you’re bid'. What a lovely explosion of ‘b’ sounds.
The Bronze Rider, Wellington
Riding wooden horses from the hot Christmas Caves,
The children came laughing out into the Quay,
With a prance at their hills, and a dash at their waves,
And the broad street between shining peaceful and free.
Cheeks nipped in the wind, and their curls sailing gold,
Rode the sons and the daughters ... (Come home, dears, come home.)
But a wind from the sea blows, a thin mist blows cold
Faint down the Quay sounds the tuck of a drum.
Children come home, and be kissed as you're told.
(Ah but who said it? A child could grow old).
Home when you’re bid, or the length of my tongue
(Ah but who said it? A child could die young.)
Now the bronze Rider comes to stay awhile,
In my hilly heart, so haunted by running feet;
Turns to the dusk his young, mysterious smile,
Implacably, unanswerably sweet.
He props the sky up with his stiff young arm,
Lest it drop on cradled cottages,
Do our poor groping ways of living harm,
Vex with a light our city, that was his.
O forfeit of this world ... The great bronze hooves,
Soundless, yet trampling air as they aspire,
Fling shame on us who tread ancient groves:
Dawn is his stirrup, and his reins are fire,
Riding painted horses from town to Island Bay,
Mouths pink as moss-roses, hair sailing free,
Past the penny-shops, awning-shops, red shops and grey,
Past the Blue Platter Inn, that’s been burnt seven year,
Ride the sons and daughters. (Come home, loves, come home.)
But the sound of a bugle folds crisp on the air,
The swish of a keel cutting out the foam.
Children come home, will you hear your Dad shout?
(Ah, but who said it? A ship will glide out . . .)
Home to your broth and your books, as you’re bid . . .
(Ah, but who cried it. Our lamps could be hid.)
Faint on the Quay sounds the throb of the drum.