Friday, June 25, 2010

Terms of Appointment


I speak of walls and chains; of the vials
of wrath; of limitations, denials,
derelictions, fallings from grace,
making them yours to save my face:

Though you live in the desert eating manna, you will not be happy until you have raised a house;
Though you build, yet chaos will stoop like a girl by the hedgerow to pluck your towers like lilies;
Though you gather flowers, yet the dust of a thousand carriage--wheels will settle upon them;
Though you go a journey into the interior you will long for the reek of salt and the noise of gulls;
Though you cross the seas your heart will remain buried beneath the hearthstone;
Though you stay on one acre you will sweat with rage to see your enemies riding upon the hilltops;
Though you conquer your enemies at last, you will wish you had spent the time making summer love;
Though you tumble her in every haystack from here to Paradise, there will be a question at the end and no answer from the night;
Though you grow wise with the sloughing of years, time will not forgive you for deserting your youth;
Though you live you will long for death; though you die you will lack breath.

A R D Fairburn

Fairburn along with Glover and Curnow whetted my poetry interest in the 1960s. Here was a Kiwi poet writing about Kiwi things. The publication of his ‘Collected Poems’ in 1966 added impetus. 

This poem in particular has always appealed. It seemed an apt summary of the human predicament, the road not taken, the neighbour’s patch always better..Shakespeare’s duality, as a species we were half-angel, half-beast, lurked in my mental framework. Life's a journey, death's the end. I found it 'big picture' appealing stuff.

But unlike Glover and Curnow I found it hard to translate this enthusiasm for Fairburn into successful classroom lessons. There was some generational gap that was hard to bridge. The Biblical references at the beginning of this poem did not have reference points. Pity, I’d have to reserve my pleasure for my private reading. And then maybe the kids sensed something in this poem, a coldness, an aloofness, a lack of passion, clever stuff, abstract ideas remote from reality, a cynicism and world-weariness that youth’s idealism rejected. All very complicated for a young teacher trying to understand the universe.

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