Thursday, May 25, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Jessie Mackay

In our daily paper on Monday was the headline "Pioneer poet catches eye of BBC". Apparently BBC Scotland have come to New Zealand to make a documentary on the life of Jessie Mackay, New Zealand's first woman poet. She was born here of Scots immigrant parents in 1864 and was a teacher, journalist, reformer and acclaimed poet.
I hadn't heard of her before, so got out my copy of the Oxford Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English and found three poems. One of them was a very political poem about Parihaka, a massacre of peaceful Maori resisters - the poem was based on "The Charge of the Light Brigade". but for my Poetry Thursday contribution, I am posting another based on Maori legend.

Rona in the Moon
Rona, Rona, sister olden,-
Rona in the moon!
You'll never break your prison golden,-
Never, late or soon!

Rona, for her crying daughter,
At the dead of night
Took the gourd and went for water;
Went without a light.

There she heard the owlets wrangle
With an angry hoot;
Stick and stone and thorny tangle
Wounded Rona's foot.

'Boil the moon!' she said in passion;
'Boil your lazy head!
Hiding thus in idle fashion
In your starry bed!'

Angry was the moon in heaven;
Down to earth she came:-
'Stay you ever unforgiven
For the word of shame!

Up!- you made the moon a byword -
Up and dwell with me!'
Rona felt the drawing skyward,-
Seized a ngaio tree.

But from earth the ngaio parted
Like a bitten thread;
Like a comet upward darted
Rona overhead.

In the moon is Rona sitting
Never to be free;
With the gourd she held in flitting
And the ngaio tree.

You'll never break your prison golden,-
Never, late or soon,
Rona, Rona, sister olden, -
Rona in the moon!

- Jessie Mackay, 1864 - 1938


Dana said...

I should really take a peek at the Oxford Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English.

Catherine said...

Yes, I like fat poetry books that lead me to lots of different authors. Of course I like slimmer poetry books by one author, too, when I have discovered my favourites.

Dana said...

The truth is I've read too much American poetry and not enough by folks in other parts of the world. My bad.

Deb R said...

Man, the old legends can be rough on people, can't they! The punishment seems a bit extreme for the crime. Cool poem though!

chiefbiscuit said...

I've never read any poems by Jessie McKay - I don't think anyway ... although I do have two or three NZ poetry anthologies. Great to read this poem and add to my knowledge of local poets!

Catherine said...

My reading is biased in the direction of American poetry too, thanks to "Poetry Daily". I also read quite a lot of New Zealand poetry - but I'm fairly ignorant about British, Australian and the rest of the world, apart from Neruda, who I love, and Prevert, who I discovered during high school French lessons.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for sharing this. I love it when something old becomes new again...and poetry does every time someone thinks to share it!

liz elayne said...

thanks for sharing this poem and introducing me to this poet. very cool. i love all that i learn on poetry thursday!

paris parfait said...

This poet is new to me; thank you for the introduction. Lovely!

paris parfait said...

This poet is new to me; thank you for the introduction. Lovely!