Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On The Swag


His body doubled
under the pack
that sprawls untidily
on his old back
the cold wet dead-beat
plods up the track.

The cook peers out:
`oh curse that old lag-
here again
with his clumsy swag
made of a dirty old
turnip bag.'

`Bring him in cook
from the grey level sleet
put silk on his body
slippers on his feet,
give him fire
and bread and meat.

Let the fruit be plucked
and the cake be iced,
the bed be snug
and the wine be spiced
in the old cove's night-cap:
for this is Christ.'

R A K Mason

This well-known poem is one of my favourites. Part of the Kiwi dream is an idea of egalitarianism. Mason’s swagger represents that tradition at its best. It reflects its masculine era but that old deadbeat is Christ as Everyman and therefore deserves to be treated with great dignity and respect. Its radicalism is underestimated for it was and remains an objection to the contemporary ethos. Not only does the compassion have a rare robust ring to it, the mood fits age-old traditions of hospitality, challenging the power structures of the class system. The Kiwi rebellion against the Old Country was amongst other things a protest at the ordered world of Victorian England. As a piece of writing its form transcends its ideas. Part of its appeal is its apparent simplicity, rhyme so snug it’s hardly noticeable.

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