Friday, October 22, 2010

The Twilight Within

The tui comes daily to the abutilon outside our French doors. I take him for granted but visitors are entranced. One said the other evening ‘I’ve never been so close’. The delicacy of such a large bird has to be seen to be believed. It makes the blackbird look clumsy.

Beside the abutilon the camellia, still a blaze of flower, has new shoots galore. We had it pruned last year after flowering. Judging by the new growth it looks like an even better display next year. I wonder will I be here to see it?

I am enjoying the community of the Tuesday poem group. I follow the individual blogs and comments, disparate lives with one common interest. One member wrote asking me if if a knew the poem which contained the line ‘I was nine at the time and a coward by fate’. I didn’t and a search failed to find it. So I confessed failure. But the miracle of the internet. Someone else knew and blogged the information. Here is the poem. :


I was driving the cows and the frogs were soothsaying,
‘Woe, land and water! All, all is lost!’
It was winter full-grown and my bones were black in me.
The tussocks were brittling from dew into frost.

The earth looked at me, ears up in stillness.
I was nine at the time and a coward by fate:
The willow-trees humping into cringing old swaggers,
And the cows lunged up unicorns, passing the gate.

A sudden wind clouted the nose of our chimney,
It rumbled and bellowed its sparks in a spray;
I took to my heels in the terrible twilight,
For I thought the sky was blowing away.

Eileen Duggan

Shades of Walter de la Mare! The fears of a nine-year old! Thanks Alexia. Well done.

I sit in my chair and look out to the garden – green, lush, fecund, the promise of summer. I go into my study and sit at the computer and a miraculous world of information and communication opens. Ali has lent Anne a recipe book, Nigel Slater’s 'The Kitchen Diaries'. I dipped into it as I ate my lunch. His theory is that food should be seasonal. He’s correct. Asparagus started, whitebait ending, gooseberries soon, then peaches, plums and cherries, water-cress, Bluff oysters ahead. The supermarket coddles us from the reality of existence.

Trivial? No! The nature of existence - life, communication, food, and fear.

I often count my good fortune. I was born into a land lucky – was it luck? - enough not to know famine or to have war rage over the land. Reading a book review this morning I learnt that 14 million non-combatants were killed in Eastern Europe in the middle of the 20th century. What a tragic waste! The mind boggles at the enormity of the murderous totalitarian regimes led by Hitler and Stalin. Hang on to our human rights – they are a bulwark against fear and intimidation and slaughter.

The contrast between my quiet haven and the Warsaw ghetto beggars belief. When I was teaching and attempting to explain the size of the number ‘one million’ I used to say ‘Jesus Christ walked, lived and preached in Palestine less than a million days ago’. Some kids would try mental arithmetic, others surreptitiously scribbled the multiplication on a scrap of paper, one or two would brazenly pull out pocket calculators. Sooner or later someone would say ‘you’re right, sir’. The enormity of the number! 14 million souls destroyed, it’s inconceivable..

I would like to think I live in a kinder, gentler land. I’m afraid the jury’s out. The bogeyman that scared that young girl is still there. But it’s within us – not out there.


  1. We had a kowhai tree growing very close to our house in Karori, so we were often able to see tui up very close. I loved the sheen of their feathers, and their glorious white bowties.

    I've tried to impress upon my students just how very lucky we are to live in these countries at the bottom of the world. They don't quite believe it, but I suppose they will start to realise their luck as they get older.

  2. Harvey, this is just one of those perfect posts of yours that starts with a bird and a poem, and scouts around the whole world - and history - before landing back here again, inside one of us. Thank you. Good to read on a Friday night after a busy week.

  3. Your comment about the poem I asked you to trace - and about its happy discovery by another blog reader - reminds me of that "six degrees of separation" notion. I've never found that you need six degrees; one or two usually do the trick. And so it was with my request!

    Thanks again, Harvey.