Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Fool and Grateful

The fecundity of late spring has always brought a sense of joy to me. Anne drove me to the doctor’s place last week. The wildflowers that litter Wellington’s roadside banks and verges come into their own at this time. One forgets how green and colourful Wellington is. As a city it has lots of trees. They add to the character of the place.

But they are undisciplined in contrast with Christchurch. Poor Christchurch, another massive aftershock this morning. My memory is of willows strikingly weeping into the Avon River, a guarantee to its reputation as the Garden City. I loved my time at varsity there in the ‘50s. But its gardens are less English now than they were then.

For three years I lived in Rolleston House, (RH) the student hostel just across Worcester Street from the main university entrance now damaged in the quake. Across the road were the magnificent botanic gardens where I strolled, swotted and courted. The exotic splendours of the hothouse and the formality of the rose garden were overshadowed each spring when they look their best - as does the whole city - cherry blossom, daffodils along the river, and rhododendrons. Indeed, one spot near the azaleas brings back memories of my first real kiss.

Shortly after the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York I had time between meetings to walk through these gardens. There on that bench where that kiss took place a young mother sat breast-feeding her baby, her toddler at her feet throwing clumsy bread to a duck and her ducklings. The scene was idyllic. I suddenly realised she might think I was being voyeuristic but she looked up and smiled and I said something to the effect of what a beautiful scene. She asked her daughter to give the nice man some bread to feed the ducks. Tears sprung to my eyes, for my youth, for the dead in New York, for humanity. I felt a fool and grateful.

Tears are near now as I remember the city I loved living in shudders yet again. One feels so helpless. We are such foolish creatures.


  1. Lovely post, Harvey. I feel for Christchurch too - I only lived there for a year at varsity but loved it in springtime. You must use that line: 'I felt a fool and grateful' in a poem - the repeat sounds of felt and fool and ful are rather marvellous....

  2. Dear Harvey, I wonder if you might be able to answer a poetic question for me? When I was nine, and in Ken Smithyman's class at Takapuna Primary, I encountered a wonderful poem - it might be that Mr Smithyman read it to us (he read us a lot of poetry) or it might have been in a School Journal. My problem is that I don't remember the first line or the poet's name, and so tracking it down - which I've tried to do many times - hasn't succeeded. But the recent publication of your new anthology encourages me to write, and to quote the lines I remember - and hope they might be familiar to you. (I'm not resident in NZ any more; a friend is buying your anthology for me but I haven't yet received it - and of course I realise the poem might actually be in your collection!

    Anyway. The lines I remember are the second line - "I was nine at the time and a coward by fate" and the fourth - "And the cows looked like unicorns down at the gate".

    If you can help, I'd be absolutely delighted!

    With thanks, Belinda

  3. Belinda

    I do not know the poem. I've tried to find it but confess to failure so sorry can't help. But thanks for the request. It's led me down some interesting paths and tracs.

  4. Harvey -
    re Belinda's request:it's 'Twilight' by Eileen Duggan; it has long been a favourite of mine.


  5. Dear Harvey, Alexia has answered my question, I'm delighted to tell you. She posted a comment on my 'last bean' blog giving the whole poem - it's TWILIGHT by Eileen Duggan. I'm as pleased as a dog with two tails to have that poem back again! Many thanks for your attempts to help, Belinda