Your arrival in Kiwiland
was brought on by despair,
as if you were formed from
a ‘lonely rock’ in a ‘songless land’.
The death of your father
left you near destitute -
and curtailed your scholarly hopes,
and so you sailed with your family
a new life awaiting you
out in the exotic colony.
It was here you were
recruited to fight the Maori
who later became your friends,
as you sought to make roads
around Te Awamutu. You then
lived for months with the Maori
never sighting the Pakeha
you left behind. It was here
you built your own mythology:
the young poet cast off
from the Motherland, and your
beloved Arthurian origins, left to
play the wanderer in South
Pacific lands. To complicate
matters, you fell in love
with another man’s wife.
Eventually you could marry,
living in New Plymouth and
emerging from obscurity, the man
of letters and a provocative essayist.
Your controversial findings in
the Aryan Maori sought to bind the
people closer together: Pakeha and
Maori were from the same origins
somewhere near the Caspian Sea,
‘…the fairyland of the dark children.’
A dictionary of Maori-Polynesian words
established your place for a time,
along with a book of Polynesian ‘fairy tales’.
And, after founding the Polynesian Society,
you became one of the country’s most
prominent intellectual and social figures.
It was with Reeves, the next big step
occurred. You worked with him on
making powerful social reforms.
An avowed ‘socialist’ you worked
next with Seddon, and supported
the rights of the early civil service.
Sometimes though your radical views
embarrassed the conservative Liberals.
Breaking away you were President of
the Social Democrats until Massey
crushed the labour strikes, sending
you into a sudden collapse, and
retirement from all offices in Picton -
a life well-lived, you died, a relative hero.
‘Only imaginative people really live,’
you said, ‘…the others…knowing nothing of
the crushing life, the delightful terrors,
and the delightful pain of full existence.’
This poem is indebted to the research of historian K R Howe